"The media is balanced"


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 it is"

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 correspondent).

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" communication >