Editorial Impartiality scenario

Being impartial and being seen to be impartial

<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/armymedicine/6300225700" target="_new">Image by Army Medicine</a> released via <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/" target="_blank">Creative Commons CC BY 2.0</a>
Image by Army Medicine released via Creative Commons CC BY 2.0

Allegations are made about an incompetent medical surgeon and a subsequent cover up at a hospital. People have died. Your news editor asks you to investigate. The only problem is – the surgeon is your uncle. What do you do?

  1. Investigate the surgeon thoroughly. The fact he is a relative will not deter you from doing your duty as a journalist.
  2. Try to dissuade your news editor against the story. You know your uncle to be a competent and committed surgeon. Sometimes things go wrong during operations and patients die.
  3. Tell your news editor that you are related to the person in question and ask for someone else to be assigned to the story.

Suggested action

It is difficult to be 100% impartial when dealing with stories about family or friends. Also, public perception is important. Even if you do investigate the allegations thoroughly and write the story – your audience still has to believe that your professional integrity was not compromised. By separating yourself from the story at the outset the audience can continue to trust your news organisation. So option three is probably the best course of action.

See our training module about impartiality in journalism.