Another Jones - Howard Jones - sang in 1983: 'See both sides / Throw off your mental chains'. But it isn't always so simple. While it may be appropriate to be 'balanced' in cases requiring the evaluation of two equally plausible propositions, the notion of balance is often invoked to justify misleading reporting. We can see this in the media coverage of topics such as climate change: those who deny anthropogenic global warming are sometimes given as much airtime and column inches as those warn against it, even though their views are scientifically unfounded. As Marcuse put it long ago in his essay on 'repressive tolerance', 'in endlessly dragging debates over the media, the stupid opinion is treated with the same respect as the intelligent one, the misinformed may talk as long as the informed, and propaganda rides along with education, truth with falsehood'.
The same problem attends media discussions of social issues that claim to present 'both sides' of 'the debate'. Take 'the immigration debate', for example. The debate about whether immigrants should or should not be allowed to reside in 'our' country tends to be based on at least two questionable assumptions: that immigration is a problem and that it is the prerogative of the state to control it. Political positions that reject these assumptions go unacknowledged. For as long as it relies on such crass binarism, 'balance' is a dubious journalistic objective. In fact, it could be argued that we don't need to have balance in news reporting at all. What we need is accuracy and truthfulness. The world is not balanced - so why should our news reporting be?