Objectivity in politics is a rare thing. Any time someone sets out to report political events, analyze a political situation or, yes, evaluate a politician, elements of subjectivity will creep in.
To begin with, we use words to communicate and words (whether or not one’s good with it) have denotative as well as connotative meanings. While communicating their primary meaning, they also signal other messages. Say, for example, I want to tell you that a certain candidate, although a good speaker, is incapable of putting forward his points. The impression you’ll get of the politician will vary considerably depending on whether I call him ‘verbose’ or ‘eloquent.’ And thus, such subjectivity can so spin the objective meaning.
Obviously, there’s more to it than just the choice of words. You see, political reporters aren’t just disinterested observers. In fact, they – at least the ones I know and I’ve worked with – feel pretty passionately about their beat. They’re all political enthusiasts, if one can call them that. They have points of view and they like good and interesting politicians. The standards, however, of ‘good’ and ‘interesting’ are to a certain degree quite personal; more so now, as most politicians are trying hard to come across as presentable and appealing – both subjective qualities.
Good political writers want good, interesting, and promising candidates and political activity that they will enjoy writing and telling you about. So, in a sense, you could say, they’re agents for politicians and political parties. When a politician or a political party deserves credit, writers will often tell you, just as they tell you about the disappointments they feel. Having said that, however, success in political writing requires painstaking fairness and impartiality. That doesn’t mean that it is the same thing as objectivity. Simply, because it shouldn’t be about personal likes and dislikes of the writer. If a politician is criticized, it should be explained why and the justifications for the criticism should be supported by facts. Yet political writers/journalists are unapologetic about being subjective in their evaluation of politics. Perhaps that’s what the job requires.
Some of you, in the Presidential Debates of political parties, saw some of former Opposition Leader Tshering Tobgay’s remarks as unwarranted but what would you have the political writers/journalists do? The fact is, they appreciate eloquence mingled with valid arguments and, as long as those qualities are visible, they’ll write about it.
And on the subject of bias, that most politicians accuse the media of, politicians have to understand that in a free press, journalists and even citizens are free to express themselves whether they are biased or not. We can complain about biases, no doubt. But to take action against free speech or the practice of free press is another story, one that then undermines a democratic institution – something that a good politician should instead be leading the struggle for. Credibility is the one thing any good politician, media house, or for that matter anybody who wants respect, has to offer. Compromise it, and everything comes tumbling down. We don’t need organizations or politicians to curb speech or criticism, just because we worry that lies are being spread. Credibility, at the end of the day, will take care of that, as it always has.
Politicians in particular always seem to disagree about what’s written about them or their party, and that is perfectly fine. But if they want to prove their maturity, proficiency and aptitude as a politician or a leader of a democratic nation, they should have the ability to weather such criticism without whining.
At the end of the day, journalists have a greater duty towards their readers/viewers/listeners, and above all to themselves. And hopefully they understand that. As a journalist, I know that many are in this line of profession to bring their version of truth to the people. So, that leaves us with the final question: Do journalists operate with true objectivity? Now, isn’t that a subjective question?