When we talk about journalism, we often hear the expression, “balanced and fair coverage.” But what does that really mean? What's the difference between balance and fairness? Don't they mean the same thing? How do you judge fairness in news coverage? I'd like to start with the idea of balance. I'd imagine all of you are familiar with the old fable, The Three Little Pigs. In the version most people know quite well, the three little pigs are the innocent victims and the big bad wolf is the assailant. If a journalist is covering this incident however, you might get a totally different picture. When a reporter interviews the pigs they would say the wolf attacked them. But when she interviews the wolves, he might just say he had no intention of eating the pigs. He just wanted to say hi to the new neighbors, but in his view, the pigs seemed to have a prejudice against wolves. The straw and wooden houses have collapsed because of their shoddy construction. The wolf would say that he is the victim of discrimination. Now, when the reporter puts the two sides in a story and allows a roughly equal amount of words or air time to describe what the pigs had to say as, well as what the wolf had to say, it's a balanced coverage. Balance in this sense is easy to measure. Balanced coverage gives an equal emphasis on the major stakeholders in the news story. However, does it mean that the coverage is fair? We believe the answer is no. Fairness is different from balance. Let's continue our example. Although it's great to hear from both sides, what the three little pigs said contradicts with what the wolf said. We, the news consumers, cannot really determine who is telling the truth with this type of coverage. It doesn't inform us fully. It's what we call, “he said, she said” journalism. In terms of quantity, the coverage is balanced. In terms of quality, however, it's not so fair. When we say fair in this context we're talking about the fairness of the coverage to the existing evidence. The pigs say one thing, the wolf says another. That's fine, but where's the evidence? Who's telling the truth? Have the police investigated the incident? Were there eyewitnesses who saw what happened? Fair news coverage tells a story based on the existing evidence. Let's suppose the police have a reason to believe that the wolf is telling the truth after a forensic investigation. And one of the pigs admitted they've made up the story, for whatever reasons. In this case, the fair news coverage should explain what the police know and how they reached their conclusion with the wolf side of the story. Yes, it should also mentioned the pigs’ side. Maybe a quote from their lawyer. But the balancing the two sides at this stage is misleading. In summary, there are four types of news coverage. Fair and balanced, fair but not balanced, not fair but balanced, not fair not balanced. Fair and balanced coverage means that the story is fair to the existing evidence and main stakeholders are given equal amount of representation. That's good. Fair but not balanced coverage is also a good. Because what we look for a news is a truthful account of what happen. In fair news coverage, journalist are trying to find out and tell us the best obtainable truth with the presence of clear, compelling evidence. The quantitative balance should not be a concern then. What we need to be very careful of is the next one, not fair but balanced news coverage. This is what we call false equivalents or he said, she said journalism. Unfortunately, the news media play this card often because it's easy to make the story look and sound journalistic, even though it doesn't really inform the public of the true nature of the news. Let's say in your country there's a group of politicians who claim that a certain historical incident, like an ethnic cleansing has never happened even though the majority of the historians and other experts in your country say there is undeniable evidence of that. If a reporter gives an equal amount of time and space to the political group and the historians, that's a balanced coverage. But it doesn't represent the reality in a fair manner. In this case, the reality is the experts agree that the ethnic cleansing did take place and the deniers claims are not supported by facts. A fair news coverage should reflect that reality and not simply treat the two sides equally. The last one, not fair, not balanced. Well, I guess I don't need to explain why a smart news consumer should dismiss such a news story. When we evaluate news we should ask ourselves, is this coverage fair to the evidence? Is this a truthful representation of what's happened or what's going on? In order to answer such questions, we need to understand what constitutes evidence and what truth means in journalism, as we discussed in the previous lectures. Let's recap. Balance and fairness is different. Quantitatively, balanced coverage does not make the story necessarily fair to the evidence or reality. We should watch out for false equivalence because it's misleading.