Should journalists be honest about their political persuasion? This is the question posed by Marianne magazine this week after television presenter Alan Duhamel was suspended when comments he made in November came back to bite him. In a meeting at Sciences Po, he’d announced to a select crowd that he’ll be voting Bayrou.
The debate is particularly pertienent for me. Last week I was asked to quit the politics team when my news organisation decided it would be inappropriate for me to continue due to the imminent publication of my book, ‘Schizophrenie Francaise’ (available in book stores near you from March 29).
It wouldn’t be wise for me to debate this particular issue further in public. But let’s take a wider perspective. Is it possible to be totally objective? Or should we be honest about our subjectivity and let the public decide for themselves whether our personal bias has affected our reporting.
Before I became a journalist, I considered becoming an engineer. In the scientific world, objectivity is key. At least that is what they claim. In experiments, the personal is removed to the extent that the ‘I’ is obliterated from the official version of events. Lab reports read: ‘the glass container was placed on top of the bunsen burner.’
Later, when I studied social anthropology, I saw the social sciences try to ape this approach in a bid for respectability. The anthropologist sat on the veranda and observed what was going on around him, trying to ensure he didn’t influence events. Then there was a revolution. Anthropologists realised they couldn’t understand what was going on unless they became a part of it. Some of them took a look at the hard sciences and realised they aren’t always as objective as they claim. The man who gave his name to the unit of energy, James Prescott Joule, was able to see the minute changes in the reaction of a liquid at different temperatures due to his personal experience watching liquids dance at his father’s brewery.
But back to politics. Marianne reports that at the Figaro, Nicolas Beytout has decreed the newspaper will not back any candidate in order to temper critics wary of the right-wing sympathies of shareholder Serge Dassault, a military industralist and a UMP senator. The Express and Le Point also prefer their journalists keep their opinions to themselves. At Le Nouvel Obs, its up to the editorialists to decide whether or not to reveal their personal choice.
Marianne’s editorial staff decided to announce their choices on the pretext that if a media can stake its position for or against the Iraq war, or on other issues, it would be hypocritical not to take a stance on the presidential elections. The result? Well it seems I was wrong about Bayrou. He is the candidate of choice for 36 percent of Marianne’s redaction, putting him level with Segolene. Sarkozy won 2 percent. He was pictured in a cartoon declaring: ‘I don’t care if Marianne doesn’t support me. I’ve got TF1.’