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There can be no impartiality on the big moral issues

February 15, 2014 at 1:27 pm

I get very angry when I hear people call for objectivity, impartiality, integrity and professionalism when there is a conflict between an oppressor and those oppressed; a torturer and the victim of torture; a murderer and the murdered; a tyrant and those seeking justice; an army and unarmed civilians; or those who crush freedom and those who struggle for it. I feel disgust for those who are reluctant to support the oppressed of this world on the grounds that things are still unclear; that the identities of the perpetrators and victims are still not known.

More annoying still is when such reluctance is shown by media professionals who stress the importance of objectivity without pausing to consider if it is “objective” to give air-time or column inches to tyrants and their mouthpieces while their forces continue to kill innocent civilians. When oppression, injustice and persecution are so obvious, how can the media not give the victims a voice? How can anyone be impartial in major ethical battles when what is wrong is so clear and what is right is even clearer? Why should those few media professionals who do stand up for the poor people in the world be castigated for “lacking impartiality”?

It is rare for media outlets to publish anything other than “our guys’” viewpoints in time of war. Indeed, the opposite is usually the case. So-called “embedded journalists” are there to promote the official take on conflict and denigrate the opposition. It is ironic that wars to promote democracy, fairness, justice and freedom of expression are often won using tactics which illustrate none of those laudable qualities. This should be kept in mind when we consider the media approach, and criticism from both sides of that approach, to the Arab Spring revolutions.

It is surely wrong for someone to flaunt objectivity and impartiality in such situations. There is no impartiality in this struggle; anyone with a small amount of humanity within them should support those who are oppressed and struggling for freedom and dignity. Journalists have to take sides too; to stand with good against evil, without any hesitation or feeling of a need to be impartial. Taking such a principled stand has to be to demonstrate one’s integrity. To pretend otherwise, is to back the wrong side no matter how influential or powerful the latter might be.

Martin Luther King said: “The worst place in hell is reserved for those who are neutral at the time of big ethical battles, and the real calamity is not in the oppression of bad people but rather is in the silence and impartiality of the good ones.” Similarly, Albert Einstein noted that “there is no doubt that bad people in the world represent danger, but the greater danger lies in good people who stand neutral towards that evil.” If those who stand silent in the face of evil are “silent devils”, what about those who stand and claim impartiality? Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that remaining neutral in a battle between the oppressors and the oppressed is to take the side of the oppressor. Journalist Christiane Amanpour said much the same thing when she argued that “at some point, standing impartial is complicity with the aggressor”.

I would suggest that trying to stay impartial in the face of a major revolution is a political decision to support the dictators of this world, not least because they usually claim that silence signals acceptance of their policies.

Those who use the social media to pontificate on the benefits of watermelon and the dangers of the sheeshah in the midst of death, devastation and destruction on the grounds that they are being impartial are misguided. The moral high ground lies under those who stand for justice and freedom from tyranny. The neutrals on the sidelines have to make a choice or hang their heads in shame. There can be no impartiality on the big moral issues.

*The author is an Al Jazeera presenter. This article is a translation of the Arabic which appeared on  on 5 March, 2013