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Blog: The media – balanced or baloney?

media balanced or baloney

Faced with a complicated news story to present, many media producers seek out so-called experts to explain to us, ill-informed listeners or viewers, what is really going on. In an attempt to disguise the fact that few people really understand complex issues, producers will try to find two experts with seemingly opposing points of view. The idea is to offer a balanced view with both sides having their say.

This would make sense if all complex issues had only two sides, both of which could be clearly articulated. But this is obviously not the case. So a ‘balanced view’ is rarely what is delivered. In practice what normally gets broadcast is a phony polarized stand-off between two people who flat out contradict each other. Such conflict and jeopardy may be entertaining but it is rarely illuminating.

What is worse is many producers slavishly stick to the artificial principle of balance regardless of how many experts hold one point of view and how few hold another. So even when 95% of all expert opinion supports one idea, we still get both sides of the argument presented as though there were a 50/50 split. This is baloney not balanced. The news has sold its soul and is now operating as entertainment. It gets us no closer to a real understanding of an issue. In fact, it moves us further away from the answers we desperately need.

“The news has sold its soul and is now operating as entertainment. It gets us no closer to a real understanding of an issue. In fact, it moves us further away from the answers we desperately need.”

Many of the problems the world faces today are incredibly complex. Think about affordable healthcare, climate change or poverty. Even topics seemingly closer to home like Brexit and mass migration are highly complex with many interconnected parts. Not only are these problems intrinsically complex, the media’s approach to covering them is not helping. Thus the media reinforces the belief that such problems are intractable because they massively over simplify the issues and suggest that one or two answers would solve them They then roll out two experts to disagree thereby falsely reinforcing the idea that such problems are unsolvable.

So, instead of exacerbating the issues, how could the media help us find the answers? Firstly, we need to ditch experts and get in wise people. Rather than field two experts who have been chosen specifically for their narrow and opposing perspectives, we need wise people who can integrate multiple views and who can genuinely suggest a way of reconciling the complexities. 

Experts debating the point is largely pointless and ultimately causes the viewer or listener to disengage. We need media outlets that make us think, uncover the wisdom in ourselves and identify the wisdom in others. We need wise opinion rather than pointless polemics.


More on this topic: The trouble with experts

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Dr Alan Watkins

Alan is recognised as an international expert on leadership and human performance. He has a broad mix of commercial, academic, scientific and technological abilities.


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