The notion of "balance" is defined for many
people by the mainstream media (few organisations are powerful/ubiquitous
enough to present a competing notion), so this meta-fallacy
should be restated accordingly:
"Balance is whatever the media implies
This, in effect, is an example of the Appeal to Authority
fallacy. The BBC, for instance, relies heavily on a (claimed)
reputation of trustworthy authority after decades in
which it presented itself in precisely this way (without
challenge). BBC PR has long associated "Auntie Beeb"
with "good" perceived aspects of the establishment,
while distancing itself from the "bad". In this
way it has built up a "benign authority" iconography
which seems to have worked (if polls showing high public trust
ratings for the BBC are anything to go by).
The media often claim that by representing the views of the
three main UK political parties, the obligation to provide
"balance" is satisfied. If you complain that all
three parties take right-of-centre (or "establishment")
views on a given issue, the media respond that other people
have complained about the parties being too leftwing
on the same issue. Thus, Richard Sambrook, ex-head of BBC
news, said: "we must be getting it right if we get
complaints from both sides". (Email to Media Hell
Getting complaints from "both sides" seems, to
us, a poor criterion for "balance".
"BBC News ... a cosy relationship with those in authority"
According to the contents of a leaked BBC internal memo (reported
by the MediaGuardian,
23/2/07), Peter Horrocks, Head of BBC TV News, is aware of
a public perception "that BBC News has too cosy a
relationship with those in authority", and he thinks
BBC news should broadcast more exclusives that "challenge
those in power".
Another sign of the BBC's demise (in its perceived role as
a balanced trustworthy authority) was provided by an Independent
Television Commission (ITC) study. This found that the
UK public considered BBC TV coverage of the Iraq war less
objective than that of its commercial rivals. Both BBC1 and
BBC2 were judged to be less "fair" in their coverage
than Channel 4, Five, Sky News and ITV.
"Balance" & "bias"
We (at Media Hell) try to avoid evaluating media coverage
in terms of "balance" (since no position is absolutely
"balanced"). Instead, our approach is to judge whether
it's erroneous in itself or whether something important is
omitted (and whether it appears to be omitted intentionally
or not. Intentional omissions fall under our "toxic
slime" category. Our criteria for judging content
as "toxic" is outlined here).
Our criteria for "toxic"