…or rather how biased do you have to be in order to expect a balanced reporting of the issues to always result in a conclusion that makes neither side out to be the bad guy?
I have long been disturbed by what I perceive as a spreading idea that unbiased reporting (I am taking reporting in the broadest definition) on an issue will yield a result that is “balanced and fair.” I’ve recently heard this in relation to the Circassian genocide in 1864, the Russo-Chechen War in the 1990s, and in reference to Uighur history in Chinese Xinjiang.
The argument usually goes something like this: “So and So’s book/think-tank, etc. is so unbalanced and incredibly biased, because they only show one side to the conflict”. This really just comes down to an inherently biased expectation that readers seem to be infected with from high school: unbiased and fair reporting always means that both sides are wrong/both sides are in the right. We expect unbiased reporting to mean that there is no clear bad guy, no villain, no unjust, rather both sides have a justified and credible story to tell.
This is so far off point it is just plain stupid. I am sympathetic to the fact that every problem of substantive impact is complicated with overlapping concerns, histories, and motivations. I am also sympathetic to the fact that it is sometimes too simple to just cry wolf and run away from the complexity of problems (I do it myself for short blog postings!). What I am not sympathetic to are those that find it even simpler to assume that there is no one in the wrong in the first place. This, as far as I am concerned, is academic escapism, designed to perpetuate the status quo and inherently coercive in that is denies rights to victims by avoiding identifying a victim and perpetrator in the first place.
The Chechen War in the 1990s is a good example, where people will often accuse a number of writers of being unbalanced in their assessment of the conflict because they point the war crimes of the Russian side more often than those of the Chechen side. More often than not this will come from students of contemporary Russia, who seem to feel that anything that paints the Russian government and Russian military as the perpetrators of mass killings and war crimes is somehow biased. If a recent facebook argument involving myself and a Russian acquaintance is any indication, it is as if such people feel that accusing a Russian institution of criminal activity and actions comparable to genocide is the same as accusing the whole of the Russian people of this action. Well, lets just be clear that I do not blame the entirety or even the majority of Russian people for tragedies in Chechnya. But lets also be clear that all the evidence I have come across shows pretty clearly that in Russo-Chechen relations, it is more often the Russian side that has taken the more deplorable approach first.
The logic will then invariably turn into something like this: Yeah, well let’s talk about the American crimes against its own indigenous peoples. This statement is not meant to lead to any debate, but is rather meant to silence the so-called biased party. Let me be clear (again) that this is a major question that needs to be addressed in US society, but also lets point out that the US has admitted to these crimes, rather than shy away by shifting guilt to someone else. It is a rare and ultimately inconsequential psychopath that would try and justify American actions against indigenous peoples.
This brings me to my point: We have to stop assuming that a balanced and fair reporting of a story will always look a certain way, and leave the reader with the idea that there is no clear guilty party. The truth is that we are more comfortable without a guilty party, because it means we can write off an incident as just too complicated to take on. In reality, there do exist real cases where real crimes are committed against peoples. Americans have no problem with admitting our own country’s guilty in the genocides against Native Americans, and for good reason: we are clearly the guilty party. Lets not assume that incidents abroad will always be more “balanced” and “fair”, and lets not assume the balanced and fair reporting will always look a certain way.
At the end of the day, that is the worst bias of all.
My most recent online "publication" (not sure what to call it really) on World Policy Journal's blog: http://www.worldpolicy.org/blog/2013/05/13/resource-wealth-curse-or-gift
The piece argues that when central governments are weak, resource wealth has the potential to give indigenous regions independent resources to achieve their goals; but strong central governments will exert more pressure on these regions when they feel they might loose access to these natural resources and perhaps the territory itself. I compare the experience of Iraqi Kurdistan, China's Xinjiang, and Russia's Tatarstan to offer concrete examples.
The article seeks to re-create the "resource curse" argument, by showing when resources are indeed a curse, and when they can be a gift.
Analysis, Thoughts, Ideas
This blog will be an online publishing site for smaller analytical projects, news stories that I find relevant to small state foreign policy and indigenous autonomy, as well as a testing ground for new ideas and new projects that I may pursue.