STV and Stephen Daisley; A Balancing Act

STV and Stephen Daisley; A Balancing Act

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We hear a lot about the need for a 'balanced media'.  In her latest #WFIMediaWatch blog, Kirsty Strickland ponders what balance in the media means in the light of recent controversies. 

Balance.

We heard that word used a lot during the Independence referendum. In a campaign of high stakes & world attention, of national conversation and household debates – we were told this was the most important vote of our lifetimes.

As the polls were tightening and the campaigns were franticly ramping up the pace, we heard the pleas for ‘balance’ grow louder.

Why was that? It was because people knew that for the country to be engaged with the process and properly informed, broadcasters had a duty to be fair. We believed that they had a responsibility to report facts to us in a way that would aid us in reaching a decision.

Balance is important, because without it one narrow view of opinion could – with unbalanced focus – become the prevailing credible argument with the public.

You’re probably thinking that this is obvious, that this is all we’ve been talking about since Indyref and beyond. And it is. But too often in Scottish politics this holy grail of ‘balance’ is only spoken about as desirable when we are talking about Nationalists or Unionists getting their say.

The latest Twitter fracas has involved the STV journalist Stephen Daisley, and whether or not he has been ‘’gagged’’ by STV as a result of SNP pressure.  

Amongst other things, Daisley’s critics lament his lack of ‘balance’.  Again, mostly in relation to his stance on Independence and unfiltered Twitter personality. In doing this, Daisley gets a free pass for other, far more problematic uses of his role as STV’s digital politics and comment editor.  

Daisley hasn’t been shy in declaring himself as anti-choice when it comes to abortion. Or as he put it in an article he penned for STV ‘’My name is Stephen and I believe life begins at conception.’’

Daisley isn’t alone in his views when it comes to abortion, he’s got the SNPs John Mason for high-profile company there. The problem is that Daisley’s personal views were being blurred with news, under the STV Politics banner. Balance isn’t having one man who gives his opinions on everything. Balance in relation to political coverage is hearing from a range of people, perspectives and expertise.  If STV’s digital output team had that, we wouldn’t be hearing from an anti-choice man on abortion, telling us how he cares about unborn foetuses so much more than we do.

It’s wearing thin. Not Daisley, because he is just one man. But the general willingness of many to only pipe up about how important fair representation is when we are talking about Yes and No.  Frankly I can’t listen to one more argument about an unbalanced audience in a debate, from the same people rubbish gender balance with ‘who cares if it’s a man or a woman?’ Spoiler alert – It’s *always* a man.

In March, STV announced a new comment and analysis section on its website. Stephen Daisley wrote: ‘’What we will be: Different, definitive, and entertaining. Expect new voices, new formats, new ways of looking at the world.’’

Bellow were the intro’s to five articles with the by-lines -  

Kevin McKenna

Bernard Ponsonby

Aidan Kerr

John McTernan

Colin MacKay.

 

I’m sure they were all great articles, but is this balance? It matters that politics is presented to us with a view to party balance. It is also just as important that news output in general is not the sole preserve of one demographic.

If STV wants to stick to its new voices pledge then we’re going to need to see more women, ethnic diversity and different perspectives. They fell into the habit of thinking that controversy + clicks = critique. Having an anti-woman perspective on abortion doesn’t make an article especially important for critical thinking. It’s just another man opining about something of which he has no experience or insight and another series of men labelling him ‘bold’ or ‘brave’ for saying it.

We’re not asking for the moon to be dragged down so we can dance atop it. We’re asking for parties and broadcasters and editors to look at the make-up of their output and see which voices are missing. Then give them a platform to say what’s not being said.  

We’ve had a long accepted, less questioned form of bias in Scotland for a while now. It hasn’t sparked protests outside the BBC or many complaints to editors; but it’s still there.

It is not intentional, or party political or conscious, but indifference towards gender balance manifests itself as bias. How can it not? In no single week that #WFIMediaWatch has monitored current affairs programmes has there been more women than men.

Because it isn’t deliberate -should we just accept it?

Because parties might automatically think man = capable and send one – is that a good enough excuse?

I don’t think so.  

Stephen Daisley at STV was an example of a balancing act gone wrong. He shouldn’t be vilified for it. It is the job of news outlets to ensure their coverage is diverse and representative. One voice or one group of people always holding the microphone will inevitably lead to disgruntled heckling from the audience.

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