What the ‘independent’ in ‘The Independent’ really means when it comes to politics

The Only Way is Ethics

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The Independent Online

When Nigel Farage became a columnist for The Independent last year there was a certain degree of disquiet among readers. Did this, some asked, herald a lurch by the paper to the right?

As the editor made plain at the time, the addition of a single politician columnist was not reflective of The Independent’s own political stance. Rather, it was indicative of the newspaper’s central philosophy of providing a platform for many, varied views; even those which run counter to its editorial line.

Nevertheless, Farage’s hiring gave an interesting insight into the way in which The Independent is viewed, particularly by those who believe that its raison d’être ought to be adherence to a leftist political agenda.

This idea becomes more fascinating when set against the contrary notion, which has been manifest in several recent complaints, that we do not do what we say on the tin: in other words, we are insufficiently independent precisely because we take a firm editorial position on political matters. It is a perennial misunderstanding that “independent” and “neutral” are synonymous.  Perhaps that is a result of people ignoring the independence of our approach to a subject and seeing only the editorial opinion we arrive at. The existence in the UK of a public service broadcaster that is required to be impartial may also create confusion about the obligations of other media outlets when it comes to expressing opinions.

Those who were upset when Ukip’s leader joined our band of writers may take comfort from the fact that the most recent complaints have come from Mr Farage’s followers, disgusted by our political stance and our “discrimination” against their party. 

It is certainly true, as we have made clear in editorials, that The Independent finds much of what emerges from Ukip to be unattractive. Yet the claim that we are not prepared to give the party its say can only be based on a failure to look at the identities of our columnists.

No closure for a grieving mother

Last Tuesday, we ran a news feature based on a interview with the mother of Azelle Rodney, who was killed by a police firearms officer in 2005. A public inquiry into the incident concluded last year that Rodney was unlawfully killed but his mother, Susan Alexander, still awaits a decision from the Crown Prosecution Service about whether to bring proceedings against the individual officer or the Metropolitan Police.

We made it clear in our article that, at the time Azelle Rodney was shot, police suspected he and two others were on their way to commit a robbery. We noted that there were guns in the car in which the three were travelling, although Rodney was unarmed when the police marksman fired the eight shots that killed him.

Given how clearly the facts were set out, I was surprised to receive a complaint from a reader who felt our piece suggested the police “need to get themselves shot before they are allowed to defend themselves”. In fact, the article took no position on the legitimacy of the shooting. Its purpose was to highlight how unsatisfactory it is that the investigations into this tragic incident still rumble on.

It is an odd thing that some people see this kind of story as intrinsically anti-police. Recording the sadness of a mother who cannot gain closure over the death of her son is not a verdict on the actions of the man who killed him.