Producers must consider all relevant facts and perspectives on a particular subject and present information in a respectful and responsible manner — without favoritism or discrimination.
Fairness does not require that equal time be given to conflicting opinions or viewpoints. Fairness does, however, require producers to be open-minded when evaluating the merits and assessing the credibility of all opinions or viewpoints while also managing their own personal opinions and biases. One purpose of fairness is for audiences to appreciate and learn from content, even if they disagree with its conclusions. Fairness also requires that producers carefully represent the words and actions of individuals they interview or otherwise cover.
Producers must never manipulate the views of those individuals in an effort to cast them in stereotypical roles or to support predetermined perspectives. Instead, producers must be mindful of the culture, history, and social customs of those individuals when presenting their views. Producers must give those they cover the opportunity to present their strongest case, while always providing appropriate context to the audience, and producers must give those who are the subject of attack or criticism a reasonable opportunity to respond.
Guidance on how to put the principle of Fairness into practice:
Edit for Brevity and Clarity, Not to Distort
All producers face the necessity of selection — which material to leave in and which material to edit out. Reducing and organizing information is a fundamental part of the producer’s craft. The objective of the editing process is to collect and order information in a manner that fairly and accurately portrays reality. Producers must ensure that edited material remains faithful in tone and substance to that reality; they should not sensationalize events or create a misleading version of what actually occurred. For instance, when editing an interview for brevity or sequencing, producers must ensure that such edits do not change the meaning or context of the interviewee’s responses.
Do Not Deceive the Audience
The credibility of content is jeopardized whenever the audience or a source is deceived or might feel deceived. Deceiving the audience includes conflating time so that it appears that several interviews were actually one or presenting taped material in a manner perceived as live. So as not to deceive a source, interviewers generally should be clear about the purpose of the interview.
Use Caution When Implementing Dramatization Techniques
The use of music and sound effects, dramatic lighting or staging, or other artificial effects can subtly influence the impression left with the audience. Producers must exercise care not to use such techniques in a way that is unfairly manipulative by distorting the reality of what occurred, including giving the impression that such music was in the scene itself when it was not.
Technique Must Not Overwhelm Substance
Advances in production technology carry with them the possibility that technique may overwhelm substance — overshadowing or distorting the underlying content, making the content technically inaccessible, or distracting the public’s attention from the information that the content is attempting to communicate. PBS will reject content that, in its judgment, disserves the viewer or the subject matter by inappropriately pursuing technique at the expense of substance.
Be Cautious with Pre-Trial Coverage
The United States legal system presumes that defendants are innocent until proven guilty in criminal proceedings. While reporting on both civil and criminal proceedings is often in the public interest, the principle of fairness requires that producers must be sensitive to the potential effects of pre-trial coverage on those accused of wrongdoing. Producers should view with skepticism any self-serving statements from attorneys representing a party to the proceeding. Producers should also be cautious about using any alleged evidence that is made available to the public before trial
Related Case Studies
Interactive scenarios involving the principle of Fairness:
More in-depth exploration of the principle of Fairness: