Journalism can be a tawdry old business, but good journalism is governed by morally significant and philosophically challenging normative ideas such as the public interest and impartiality. These concepts are part of the everyday language of newsrooms and big journalistic organisations. They’re also ubiquitous in journalistic codes of conduct, such as the Ofcom code and the BBC’s own Editorial Guidelines and yet, many journalists would probably struggle to articulate a philosophically thorough and coherent account of what these important concepts mean. In today’s increasingly fractious and factually unreliable public space, thinking about the practical meaning of impartiality has become more urgent. Some journalists say it’s an anachronistic concept that’s past its sell-by date.
For the BBC, by contrast, impartiality is fundamental – part of the bedrock of what BBC journalism is supposed to do. So what is impartiality in journalism?
Is it valuable? And if it is, how should journalists go about trying to satisfy its demands?