While it may be appropriate to be 'balanced' in cases requiring the evaluation of two (or more) equally plausible propositions, the notion of balance is too 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 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 'two sides' of 'the debate'. Take 'the immigration debate', for example. The apparently even-handed debate about who should or should not be allowed to reside in a country is often premised on a false dichotomy: we are asked to choose between political options favouring more or less immigration, yet both 'sides' of the argument usually presuppose 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?