Reporting in complex times
It used to be so simple.
A generation ago the concept of impartiality amounted to giving "both sides of the argument". It was assumed that - give or take a little - it was enough to allow someone to state an opinion, someone else to disagree with it - and as long as you gave them roughly equal time, you'd been impartial.
The world of politics confirmed that this was the right approach - there was a clear spectrum, where people tended to fall on the left or the right.
A report this week into the concept of impartiality at the BBC called this the "see-saw" approach, easy to understand and implement - but patently unworkable in today's diverse society. (Read the full report here [PDF].)
Britain is now home to a variety of groups with often strongly diverging opinions on how the world should be run and people should behave - the report used the analogy of a "wagon wheel", something with no fixed centre, and with spokes shooting off in all directions. The idea of a wagon wheel certainly helps remind editors that we live in complex times, and should strive to reflect that in our reporting, but it doesn't help you to remain impartial. So the report has come up with 12 ways to help ensure impartiality.
Those points are extremely useful - and here are the things I remind myself of when I come up against complex issues:
• No one thinks they're biased, so a good editor always challenges his or her own assumptions about a story/ the world.
• You can't always give the full range of views in one report. Fortunately you can return to the big issues of the day time and again.
• Sometimes views that people think are offensive need to be heard
• The BBC is for everyone, but if a certain group's views are not often reflected we won't fully understand the issues (and members of that group will simply switch off).