What does TV impartiality look like in the age of Trump?

National broadcasters, such as the ABC and the BBC have a statutory duty to ensure that the information they share is suitably impartial. Fundamentally, the networks need to demonstrate a diversity of perspectives from a diversity of sources on a range of subject matter. This is not the same as balance; minority views, for instance should not be given equal prominence to the prevailing consensus. It’s what the BBC refer to as “due weight” – you can read their guidelines here.

So, how much weight do the broadcasters afford to the views of Donald Trump? His Chinese hoax theory in regards to climate change has been well documented – and stands in stark contrast to the scientific consensus, but he is the President of the United States. It’s a relatively easy one for the broadcasters to bat away, despite the President’s status – it’s not a position that’s widely supported (despite the tweet’s 66,000 ‘likes’) and Mr Trump has a track-record for outlandish commentary. However, despite its left field origins, the comment is clever. Why? Well it leads any curious journalist to question what exactly the Chinese are doing in regards to global warming. It’s a great example of framing an issue; there may not be a hoax, but it does put the proverbial tennis ball back in the Chinese court.

Moreover, Mr Trump’s appointment also puts the national broadcasters in an uneasy position in view of the bashing they invariably receive for their perceived left-wing tendencies – here’s a 2016 piece from the Herald. The dilemma lies in the key role that’s expected of any discerning media operator, which is to rigorously interrogate the workings of those in power, including the President of the United States. If they do what’s expected of them, the likes of the ABC and the BBC face continued charges of one-sided journalism and the loss of objectivity (which gives further leverage to the free marketeers). Yet, if they pull their punches, they stand supportive of a regime’s policies, however outrageous the facts. So, what will it be?  The question, of course, brings us back to diversity – the need for a diversity of views from a range of people. As the impact of the silent majority begins to take shape, the trick to be achieved here is getting them to speak in the first place.