Objectivity and being Catholic

By  Rebecca Ryall, Youth Speak News
  • May 21, 2008

One of the first journalism lectures I ever attended emphasized the importance of non-partisanship on the part of the reporter.

Absolute and infinite balance, my professor said, may be impossible to achieve, but the journalist must give at least the appearance of a non-biased perspective in the stories they cover.

She put it in the context of political affiliations. While voting is your duty, and right, as a citizen of a democratic country, a journalist should keep his or her partiality private. This is particularly relevant come election time — there should be no sign on my front lawn showing support for one party or the other.

It’s a matter of trust. The readership or audience wants to receive a fair account of the news. But as both a Catholic and an aspiring journalist, this crucial mantra becomes more of a dilemma for me. The possibility for bias, particularly perceived bias, is heightened.

During my first year at a secular university, I’ve been confronted and labelled with Catholic stereotypes, at times without having even said or written anything on a subject.

I’ve been challenged about my feelings on abortion and on the church’s role in the legacy of residential schools. On the surface, these may seem like ordinary topics for intellectual debate. Except that they are asking for my opinion — not as a student whose human rights lecture just ended — but as a Catholic.

I was surprised that people I was just getting to know applied certain labels to me. I may not have a sign on my front lawn to advertise that I am Catholic, but people still know.

 All of this I have had to address, and I’m not even a professional journalist yet. For publications like The Catholic Register, it’s expected that stories provide analysis from a Christian or Catholic point of view.

But what will happen when I write and report for secular media outlets? We live in a hyper-media age in which more and more audiences seek sources that affirm rather than challenge their beliefs. We live in a century where many secularists are so opposed to religious theories or truths that they can act as extreme as the religious right-wing people they criticize.

I feel I am more scrutinized for my religion than for the political party I support, and maybe justifiably so. I find it much harder to separate myself from a faith I’ve followed my whole life than from a political party I’ve supported in one election — the only one for which I was eligible to vote. But my calling is not just to be Catholic. My calling is also to write, and I can present both sides of the story regardless of my own personal bias.

Subscribers to major newspapers do not necessarily believe that bylines propagate the interests of the newspaper owners.

I believe that Canadians understand partiality because they each have had their own political, religious and personal biases to overcome.

I believe that to research all sides of a story and to present them in as balanced a way as possible, will establish the trust between reporter and reader, regardless of any particular leaning.

(Ryall, 20, studies journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa.)

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