Bias and Objectivity 1

Yesterday a colleague accused me of doing a pro-Hamas story.  This is a strange accusation to those who know my distaste for Muslim Fundamentalism.  The question being raised here is whether ‘objectivity’ can be translated as bias. 

The story in question concerned the European Union’s suspension of its financing for the purchase of fuel for the Gaza power plant last week end which resulted in a power outage for half the territory’s one point four million people.  My story dealt with the suffering of the Palestinians, isolated from the world since Hamas seized Gaza on June 15, and now left without light, fridges to prevent food from spoiling and fans to make the over-heated houses bearable.

I mentioned that Hamas denied accusations from the Fath government in the West Bank that it was taxing the electric power to put money in its empty coffers. I said Hamas had offered the Europeans to come and see for themselves.  I also said the EU considers Hamas a terrorist organization and as a result boycotts it which means it has to be sure none of its aid helps finance Hamas. * 

I feel that if my story can be considered biased in favour of Hamas given my feelings, I must have moved close to objectivity.  We all know absolute objectivity does not exist, that we are all influenced by what we think we know, by our experience and prejudices.  As soon as we chose which story to do and which to ignore, we have made a subjective choice albeit most often for excellent reasons. 

Reuters, for example, barred the use of the word ‘terrorist’ because of the emotional connotations it carries and because often “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”.  Mark Twain also warned against using adjectives and superlatives : “If you see an adjective, kill it!” he said.  Or to put it another way: “Just the facts, Mam.  Just the facts.” 

I once spent a day with Muhammar Gadaffi, the Libyan president, and did a story on how popular he was with Black African youth. ** I tried to show what arguments (even if we believe he is a demagogue) attracted Africans so much.  I believed we have to understand the phenomenon in its reality before we can try to tackle it.   

It serves no purpose to tell people “Gadaffi is a nut”.  People will not then be able to understand why he is so loved.  When I was accused of doing a ‘pro-Gadaffi story’ I felt I had achieved the goal every reporter strives for: objectivity. 

But getting as near the truth as possible is not always easy and in many cases we are our own worst enemies.  Peer pressure is also a problem as when you are told “I see you’ve done a pro-Hamas story. 

I deeply dislike the war in Iraq but I told the Americans if they can show me something good going on, I will write about it. I never got a response. 

*Curiously enough given Hamas rhetoric, the fuel is supplied by an Israeli company.

** In 2006, the Libyans refused to issue me a visa to cover the African Union summit.