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Right of reply and fairness

Image courtesy of Adam Clarke and released under Creative Commons

Being able to justify editorial decisions

You are the editor of a morning radio news and current affairs programme.

The news is leading on reports of a sharp rise in unemployment figures. At 07:10 am you have a politician on the programme being interviewed about the jobless totals.

She blames restrictive union laws which, she says, mean that firms find it harder to hire staff without conditions. She quotes numbers, which your news team then repeats in the following news summary at 07:30am.

When the item ends you receive two phone calls.

One is from the organisation representing businesses saying that the minister got it wrong and that you are misleading the audience by repeating her claims. The other is from the a union leader who claims to have data refuting the minister's point.

You have already prepared the bulletin for 8am expanding on what the minister said and including an audio clip of what she said on your programme.

What do you do? Do you:

a) ditch the 08:00am bulletin piece until you can check it out more thoroughly

b) stick with your script and broadcast without changing a thing

c) take down the comments from the employers' organisation and the union leader and add them at the end of the report as a back announcement

d) leave the piece as it is, offer both the business and union representatives the chance to have their say immediately after the bulletin at 08:10 and make a back announcement after the minister's claims saying that you will have the views of business and the unions immediately after the bulletin.

Our recommended answer:  d) leave the piece as it is, offer both the business and union representatives  the chance to have their say immediately after the bulletin at 08:10 and make a back announcement after the minister's claims saying that you will have the views of business and the unions immediately after the bulletin.

Why d) is the right answer

Remember right of reply and including alternative points of view - here are some key points.

Right of reply

In seeking impartiality, we must  never assume that academics, journalists and other contributors brought in to provide balance and comment are themselves impartial.

Impartiality must be adequate and appropriate. It is not necessary to represent every argument on every occasion or to offer an equal division of time for each view.

Controversial subject might cover politics, religion, sexual practices, human relationships and financial dealings. In all cases, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight.

Opinion and fact

Sometimes it is not possible to provide balance and impartiality in a single item. It might be that a story is so one-sided that to try to offer balance and impartiality makes a mockery of the report.

Personal views offering one side of a story can often add fresh public understanding of an issue and encourage healthy debate. This is especially true when the contribution enhances the understanding of the audience and opens their minds to fresh perspectives.

Alternative view points

Again, it is then our responsibility to find alternative points of view within the same programme strand or within the next bulletin. In all cases we must :

  • retain a respect for factual accuracy
  • fairly represent opposing viewpoints when appropriate
  • provide an opportunity to reply
  • ensure that a sufficiently broad range of views and perspectives is included
  • ensure these are broadcast in similar output, measure and time of day.

You don't need to have both sides in a single item as long as there is fair representation of all view in the programme.

This is the answer to a question in the editorial professionalism module.

David BrewerThe author of this piece, David Brewer, is a journalist and media strategy consultant who set up and runs Media Helping Media. He delivers journalism training and media consultancy services worldwide via Media Ideas. He also runs a media mentoring service.

This site has been given permission to use and adapt elements of the BBC's Editorial Guidelines in these short editorial ethics modules. They have been updated to reflect changing international, regional and cultural variations.

Image courtesy of Adam Clarke and released under Creative Commons



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