We need to redefine objectivity

Journalism requires a decolonial lens

A newspaper, the headline reads “the comrades and their divergent perspectives”
PHOTO: Ashni / Unspash

By: Sude Guvendik, Staff Writer

In journalism, objectivity has long been regarded as a guiding principle — a compass to navigate the turbulent sea of information. It’s often thought of as balancing two perspectives in a news story, and striving to provide a fair, unbiased account of events. However, as our relationship with media develops, it becomes evident that the notion of objectivity requires a critical re-examination, especially through the lens of decolonial thinking.

The decolonial lens teaches us that history is a living force that shapes the present. Consider the coverage of Indigenous rights. Indigenous communities have been grappling with centuries of colonization, dispossession, and cultural erasure. To report on their struggles without acknowledging this is not objective journalism but a perpetuation of injustice. It is necessary to understand that Indigenous voices are intrinsically valuable and have historically been silenced by institutions including media publications. Their experience and expertise should be honoured, rather than labelled as “biased.” Upholding white, colonial perspectives contributes to the marginalization and discrimination faced by Indigenous communities. This has not only hindered their efforts to secure land rights and cultural preservation, but has also deepened the divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, perpetuating a cycle of mistrust and misunderstanding.

News publications have increasingly become platforms for opinions and information that are not firmly rooted in factual reality, but rather driven by a misguided desire to present multiple sides or opinions to the story. This inclination, however well-intentioned, often results in what is known as the balance fallacy. This occurs when two opposing positions are treated as equally valid, even when one is supported by an abundance of evidence, while the other lacks any substantial factual basis. 

This plagues journalism and media coverage. To truly redefine objectivity in journalism, we must acknowledge that objectivity should not merely rest on the superficial appearance of balance, but on a more profound commitment to truth, equity, and historical context.

When reporting upholds the balance fallacy, information falls through the cracks. This prevents readers from fully understanding context, because Indigenous rights are sometimes presented as a narrative of Indigenous folks versus “others” — versus the police, versus the government, but their full stories aren’t being told from their perspectives. Their experiences are the most important because they are the ones living through these issues.

As another example, some news outlets have been criticized for perpetuating the balance fallacy in their coverage of climate change. Despite an overwhelming consensus among scientists that human activities are contributing to climate change, some news publications have given airtime to climate change skeptics, creating a false sense of balance in the “debate.” This also fails to give the full picture of an issue, because publications are wrongly focused on “debating the facts.” The facts are there — journalism should build on them. 

Reporting should be grounded in verifiable facts, and statements should be rigorously fact-checked before they are presented to the public. Media publications should not state quotes without further explaining their relevance or inaccuracy. Pointing fingers at interviewees, parroting what they said in an attempt to clear themselves of any responsibility is not enough. The fundamental commitment to truth should transcend the obsession with providing “both sides of the story” when one side is glaringly deficient in evidence. Objectivity should not be mistaken for false equivalency.

True objectivity demands an understanding of the historical injustices that continue to impact the present. Any news coverage, particularly coverage that impacts marginalized communities, must provide the historical context necessary for a comprehensive understanding of the issue at hand. Failing to do so not only perpetuates ignorance but also reinforces existing power imbalances. Neutrality, in its most simplistic form, often serves to uphold the status quo. In a world where power dynamics are skewed by various intersecting factors, such as patriarchy, capitalism, and colonialism, this means neutrality favours those who hold power within these systems and perpetuate systemic inequalities.

Instead of neutrality, journalism should aspire to be equitable. This doesn’t mean giving equal time to every viewpoint, regardless of its credibility. It means recognizing the disparities in power and privilege, and striving to provide a voice to those who have historically been silenced. Fair journalism actively challenges the narratives of oppression and highlights voices that have been marginalized.

This is necessary for the collective well-being of society. It is a commitment to dismantling the structures of power and privilege that have long shaped our understanding of the world. In embracing this decolonial perspective, we can pave the way for a more just and equitable form of journalism.