Mission Objectively Impossible

Panel on Objectivity in the Media Agrees: It’s Subjective

Graphic Madeleine Gendreau and Sam Jones

Objectivity is considered by many to be a sacred tenet of journalism. It is the overarching principle that comes with the responsibility of delivering news to the public.

As part of an anti-austerity Teach-In week, a discussion held in Concordia’s Hive Café on Saturday questioned the obligation of reporters to be objective, especially when covering social movements.

“I don’t think that anybody is truly objective as a journalist,” said Damon Van Der Linde, a journalist at the CBC.

He said that the line is drawn when journalists are unwilling to criticize, or shine a “negative light,” on an issue that they individually support.

“I do not think it is really possible to be a part of a social movement and consider yourself to be a journalist that strives for objectivity,” Van Der Linde said.

“If you as a journalist are unwilling to report something that can be perceived as negative about the movement you’re involved in, it’s not journalism, its communication.”

Although it’s tough to deliver truly objective reporting, it’s still something that all journalists should strive for, Van Der Linde asserted.

“It’s really important that you understand that traditional media and I include what you call commercial media and the public broadcasters […] think of themselves as striving for objectivity,” added Philippe Marcoux, a CBC/Radio-Canada

On the opposite end of the objectivity debate was Laith Marouf, a multimedia activist and radio producer. “I have no shame in actually saying I am a biased person,” he said.

He considers himself to have been fully embedded within certain social movements and was very vocal about the role that he thinks independent and community media should play in delivering the news.

“When you are a community producer, you don’t only have your bias that you want to deliver on, but you actually have an obligation to deliver on balancing the imbalance.”

His experience covering the student strikes of 2012 formed his opinion. As the director of CUTV, he gave more space to the activists themselves than mainstream news outlets.

Marouf considers the media responsible for covering social movements and that proper reporting could help “change the balance and the outcome” of movements.

Marouf said government funded public broadcasters are “mouthpieces” of the ruling political party. Similarly, the corporate media sector speaks for the “financial powers within our societies,” he added.

“It does exist. I’m not going to claim that there is no influence,” Marcoux responded. “We have money influences, we have ads on TV. There is political influence, but there’s political influence on every media.”

However, he asserted, “there is no such thing as a political line that is decided by the government, and funneled down to the CBC newsroom.”

The CBC is not a state-owned media outlet, but a publicly funded broadcaster, he said.

He also responded to Marouf’s earlier comment that when “a new government comes into power… they change the CEO of the organization.”

“As far as naming the president and the board […] it’s a process that happens every five years. If the government changes, obviously when they name the people, they name their people,” Marcoux said.

“That’s unfortunately the way we’ve decided to have the top of the CBC named. It’s a political decision because it’s a decision made by politicians.”

Marcoux continued to assure the audience that “the president of the CBC does not have a direct influence on the editorial line.”

“You can’t achieve [media objectivity],” Marcoux said. “I for one believe you should strive for it, but I’m not convinced that every type of journalism should aim for it.”

If you are openly an activist for a certain cause, if will effect the way that your audience views your work, and hurt your credibility, said Marcoux.

“You don’t have to strive for objectivity, but there are consequences for not doing so.”