Journalists can strive for objectivity but can never be completely neutral

The Israel-Palestine conflict is in the midst of the worst unrest it’s seen in years. It started in the predominantly Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem where Palestinians are forced out of their homes by Israeli settlers. 

Needless to say, this conflict is one of the most sensitive issues to report on in journalism. And therefore it’s of the utmost importance that news organizations are transparent about the background of their reporters and correspondents.

Black Lives Matters re-opened the discussion about objectivity in journalism. There is no “both-sides-ism” when we’re talking about human rights violations like racism. And now regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict the same dynamic comes to the surface.

Dr. Rolando Vázquez Melken who is an expert on decolonization explains in an interview for the university of Delft a practice he does with his students in the beginning of the study. After he has drawn the picture of our world, along the lines of inequality based on gender, race, economic circumstances and so on, he asks his students where they think they belong on the map. And interestingly enough, the mostly Western students have trouble positioning themselves on the globe. Because, as Vazquez Melken explains, people in The West grow up with the idea that they’re somehow in a neutral position and not part of the inequality, as if they don’t have an influence on the injustice among the human race.

Journalists also have a position on the world map

For Western journalists it means that they often perceive their work as objective, coming from an unbiased point of view. Since the awareness about systemic racism has grown in the last five years, there are journalists who argue that white journalists shouldn’t report on Black issues. I don’t necessarily agree with that opinion but I do think that Western, white journalists need to be more aware of the angle they’re reporting from and be transparent about that. 
Back to the Israel-Palestine conflict. When the violence increased almost two weeks ago, I checked the reporting about it on one of the biggest Dutch news organizations. Like many other Western mainstream media they reported from a pro-Israel point of view. So I checked the background of the correspondent and found out that she is actually deeply emotionally connected to the topic because of the fact that her husband was one of the 11 victims of the 1972 attack on Israeli athletes and coaches by Palestinians at the Olympics in Munich. She fought for justice regarding her husband for almost four decades.

If a news organization pretends to report from an objective, neutral point of view, it is at least remarkable to have a correspondent with this background. Does it mean she can’t do this job? No. She is an expert on this topic for many reasons. But fellow Dutch journalists also notice that her reporting isn’t very critical towards Israeli government. And that’s too high a price to pay for journalism in this context.

If we want journalism to be more inclusive, the first step is to accept that journalists can strive for objectivity but can never be completely neutral. And fair reporting also means to look critically at your own position as a journalist and be transparent about the angle you’re reporting from. At least let your audience know that you’re aware of your own place in society. Journalists also have a position on Vazquez Melken’s map of the world.

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