The skirmish that erupted here on The Political Sword
last week with one blogsite labelling this one as exhibiting "unremitting one-eyed left wing bias", and another accusing the site of ignoring or demeaning opinions that conflict with those held by the majority of those who comment here, warrants a re-examination of what constitutes bias, what constitutes balance, and how we should address these conflicting positions on this blogsite.
We have often complained about bias and lack of balance in other blogsites, news outlets and political programmes. We have deplored the grotesque anti-Government bias exhibited by sites such as Andrew Bolt’s in the Melbourne Herald Sun
newspaper and in his new TV show The Bolt Report
. Last week The Political Sword
was being labelled as the left wing equivalent of Bolt, but "not as entertaining".
To reflect on what balance is about, let’s get back to its original meaning. A balance used for weighing has a horizontal beam pivoted in the middle from which weighing pans are suspended from both ends. That to be weighed is placed in one pan and standard weights in the other until the beam is horizontal, or ‘balanced’. In other words that of unknown weight is balanced against known weights. In political discourse much the same happens. The weight of a proposition or an opinion is estimated by setting it against established norms or standards, or against other propositions or opinions. We then seek to ascertain if there is a balance. Sometimes a proposition or an opinion does not carry the weight it was hoped it had, and the balance tips against it. The more evidence that can be assembled in support, the better it weighs in. This is what we attempt to do here. We present facts and figures and reason from them a position that seems sustainable, that counterbalances contrary positions or perhaps outweighs them. Different people give different weight to propositions and opinions, sometimes so much so that no agreement can be reached, no balanced position can be established.
This analogy might be seen by some as somewhat too philosophical, but when it’s all boiled down, the weighting we individually give to elements of an issue determines whether agreement is possible. Let’s illustrate this with a contemporary example – the asylum seeker problem.
If everyone agreed that asylum seekers deserve our concern and that they should be warmly received from their war-torn lands into our land of bounty, the only issues would be how they could arrive safely, and how many we could reasonably take. We all know that is not the case. Refugee advocates have a largely open-armed approach, while many of our citizens don’t want refugees here at all because they believe they will take our jobs, or because they come from a different culture they dislike they believe they will not assimilate into our society. There are many in between who can be persuaded one way or the other by public opinion, the media or politicians. But the media and politicians have different views. Some place heavy weight on controlled arrival and are antagonistic to those who arrive by boats, people they regard as ‘queue jumpers’. Others feel that demonizing boat people is wrong, pointing out that more by far arrive by air. Some are strongly opposed to people smugglers and want that trade stamped out. Others insist that these are simply ‘travel agents’ facilitating travel to this country of needy people. One could go on reciting the many other factors about which different people or groups have quite different views, often so strongly held that compromise is impossible, balance cannot be achieved, nor can it be argued for logically because of the different weights people assign to the various factors that apply. The dilemma for politicians elected to govern is how to strike a balance between the conflicting forces, some of them party political, that pull them this way and that, often with overblown rhetoric. We should not envy them their task.
So how should we here regard the quest for balance, and with it fairness?
When it comes to external sites or media programs we have often called for balance. We know that commercial blogsites such as those conducted by Andrew Bolt or Piers Akerman, or radio programs orchestrated by shock jocks like Alan Jones or Ray Hadley, will never be balanced. That is not their object. But we do wish our national broadcaster to be so. It has seemed to us that sometimes the ABC’s idea of balance was to put together people who hold extreme opposite views and let them battle it out, which has resulted in the matching of a heavily right-leaning commentator, not with one heavily leaning the other way (because there are very few of them), but with moderates. The heavyweight generally managed to outpunch and outweigh the others. Our idea of achieving balance on shows such as Insiders
was to engage balanced panellists, those who could embrace positions that sometimes favoured one side of politics, sometimes the other. When that has happened with journalists such as, for example, Laura Tingle, Lenore Taylor and George Megalogenis, the quality of discussion has been so much better than when those with extreme and inflexible views have been used.
This brings us then to how we here on The Political Sword
should seek to achieve balance. It is apparent, at least among the 180 who leave comments, that a substantial majority favour the Labor Government, embrace its philosophy, and want it to succeed in implementing its program of reform. Those same bloggers resent what they see as the Opposition’s tactics of negativity and obstructionism that impede the Government’s legislative program, and its unremitting attempts to demean and diminish the PM and the Government in the eyes of the electorate. But TPS
bloggers can also see flaws in the Government and how it goes about its business. An oft-repeated complaint has been about the Government’s poor record of explaining its policies and plans to the electorate. Recently we here at The Political Sword
have suggested the concept of the PM giving ‘fireside chats’ and have furnished examples of how they might be framed. We do not see ourselves as ‘one-eyed’ lefties as characterized by another blogsite. One only has to read the pieces posted and the comments to realize that.
There are some however who visit here from the opposite camp and express views antagonistic to Labor, but strangely not overtly supportive of the Coalition. Sometimes the way they have expressed their views, especially when embellished with personal remarks about other bloggers here, has raised hackles and evoked a similar reaction. This has led to much to-ing and fro-ing with insults rather than well-reasoned counterarguments. Generally no one gives way and no resolution is achieved.
While everyone who blogs here is bound to have a leaning one way or the other, it should be possible for each of us to accept each other’s views provided they are backed with facts and logically reasoned, and not accompanied by insulting remarks about other bloggers. Can we achieve that? Recent exchanges suggest that it is
What I am saying is that while we wish that commentators on political programs would be balanced and be able to express arguments for and against any proposition or opinion, achieving that same balance on blogsites is problematic, principally because individual blogsites will attract mainly like-minded individuals, whether they are right or left leaning, with a sprinkling of those from the other side to take up the cudgels.
Given that constraint, how can we on The Political Sword
achieve more balanced and fair discourse?
First, we reserve the right to be critical of the actions of political parties, sometimes heavily critical as in the piece last week: What have we done to deserve an Opposition leader like Tony Abbott?
But let us try to be critical of all sides of the political spectrum, difficult though that may be because of our leanings. Equally we reserve the right to defend those whom we believe are trying to do the ‘right thing’. We ask that those who comment here from a different viewpoint do so courteously and with compelling arguments and that they be responded to respectfully. If we all can achieve that degree of balance and fairness, The Political Sword
can go up a notch in everyone’s estimation, perhaps even in the eyes of those who like to criticise us now. As NormanK points out, those who post material here should be aware that a new visitor might gain a wrong impression if our language is immoderate; we should temper our words accordingly.
Which brings us to a more vexed question. Is a blogsite entitled to have overt leanings one way or the other? Certainly the conservative blogsites believe they have this right. Those operated by Andrew Bolt and Piers Akerman are extreme examples of heavily anti-Government sites.
Is The Political Sword
to be a ‘balanced’ site by giving equal prominence to extreme views from both sides of the political spectrum, something the conservative blogs never do? Or should it be ‘balanced’ by respectfully accepting a range of views in comments, provided of course that they are courteously put and not accompanied by personal abuse? It is the latter that seems appropriate to me; certainly not the former.
When I began blogging my main target was the media, and still is. The way the media has portrayed PM Gillard and her Government, and the way Tony Abbott and his Coalition members have played the compliant media to get their disingenuous messages across and accentuate the media’s condemnation of her and her Government, has propelled me toward even greater support for her and what her Government is trying to do, and against what the media and the Coalition is doing to frustrate that.
I am a Labor supporter, a supporter of PM Gillard and her Government, and antagonistic to Tony Abbott and his Coalition’s belligerent obstructive behaviour. Therefore in what I write here I will continue to express viewpoints consistent with that position. I see no reason to soft pedal while the Bolts, Akermans, Joneses and Hadleys and other extreme right-leaning outlets pour out their anti-Government rhetoric unabated. I hope that The Political Sword
might, even in a small way, counterbalance what these people emit day after day to large audiences.
What do you think? What do you want The Political Sword