Media Monday – Is bias inevitable?

There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about media bias – with claims of ‘fake news’ and favouritism.

The interesting thing is that bias, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Those on the right think mainstream media is biased against conservative viewpoints, those in the centre think Fox and fellow travellers are biased to the right, and leftists think ALL media tells lies 🙂

A few years ago, I was delivering an online lecture to a multi-campus group of journalism students.

I started to talk about those media outlets in Australia which were obviously left of centre when one of the other academics pulled me up, saying that ALL Australian media is right of centre.

And she was right when you look at a global perspective.

From the perspective of a communist country, there are very few hard-left publications like Red Flag in Australia.

Even papers like the Socialist Alliance’s ‘Green Left Weekly’ adopt a democratic socialist perspective.

So the ‘hard left’ point of view gets very little coverage in Australia.

But back to the issue of bias.

In the west, impartiality has long been the watchword of journalists.

That’s not the case in many places, of course.

Like Vietnam.

I once grabbed a copy of ‘Vietnam News’, on the streets of Hanoi.

It is an English-language newspaper and the particular edition I bought came out during the 5-yearly conference of the Vietnamese Communist Party.

One paragraph was written as “The 12th National Party Congress is a congress of solidarity, democracy, discipline and renovation, demonstrating its resolve to increase comprehensive and synchronous reforms while promoting the country’s rapid and sustainable development.”

If one of my students had written that, I would have marked them harshly, saying “You are stating something AS FACT when it is mere speculation. You need to attribute these claims to someone – or you are making the claims yourself.”

But, of course, in Vietnam, the media’s role is NOT to question the party – or to suggest in any way that it could be wrong.

Under communist media theory, the media provides ‘positive thoughts to create a strong socialised society’ by providing information, education, entertainment and motivation.  The theory says the whole purpose of the mass media is to educate the greater masses of working class or workers.

It is not just communist societies which subscribe to this theory – all authoritarian administrations want the media to support their point of view – and tend to deride any opposing view as ‘fake news’ (or worse).

Most journalists, on the other hand, jealously guard the right to be critical – to “shine light in the dark corners” and to “comfort the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable.”

One of the keys to that independence is an attempt by most journalists to be impartial – to tell ‘both sides of the story.’

But it hasn’t always been that way.

There is an argument that it was the rise of news-wire services that cemented impartiality into the media landscape.

Those services HAD to be impartial because they were servicing newspapers from all sides of the political spectrum – although ‘all sides’ really only meant those sides that were mainstream political views.

Since the fracturing of the media landscape, with the rise of cable news – and particularly of the internet – the ‘holy grail’ of impartiality has become less important to some.

The late Dennis McQuail in his 2000 book ‘Mass Communications Theory’ said impartiality was “balance in the choice and use of sources, so as to reflect different points of view, and also neutrality in the presentation of news – separating facts from opinion, avoiding value judgements or emotive language or pictures.”

But there is an argument that journalists CANNOT be without biases – if only because of their world-view (most Australian journalists, for example, are middle class and predominantly white – as reflects the society they report upon.)

Should these journalists allow their biases to show – in fact, be transparent about them?

Leading journalism educator Jay Rosen argues that with the rise of ‘citizen journalism’ – reporting outside the mainstream media – impartiality is impossible to sustain.

Instead, he argues, media outlets and reporters should acknowledge their biases – because as long as readers, listeners and viewers are aware of that bias, they can make up their own minds.

I’ll be honest though – I am not sure if it works.

After all, confirmation bias suggests that when we hear something that fits our existing point of view, we accept that uncritically – but if it doesn’t fit our existing opinion, we reject it as ‘fake news’.

Then we become more and more fractured along partisan lines.

Where that leaves us, I don’t know – but I suspect we may find out sooner rather than later.

Isn’t that a cheery thought?

One thought on “Media Monday – Is bias inevitable?

  1. Hey Graham

    You have inspired me to step up my blog posts and be consistent, focussed and purposeful. (I can repurpose my January Live Casts as blog posts, by having transcribe to text.)

    I love the way you have daily doses of different flavours. I have three flavours so far Finding your Ancestors, Essential Habits for Genealogists, and Essential Writing for Family Historians.

    I automate the delivery of posts from WordPress to FB, LI and Twitter to increase my reach and save time.

    Next I plan to use to schedule posts to social media and link back to those blog posts for greater repeat traffic to my website.

    Tech Question? How to link the posts to their own menu as you have done? Is that done with Categories?

    Cheers Carole On Tue, 2 Feb 2021 at 8:48 am, Cairns Communications wrote:

    > grahamcairns posted: ” There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years > about media bias – with claims of ‘fake news’ and favouritism.The > interesting thing is that bias, like beauty, is in the eye of the > beholder.Those on the right think mainstream media is biased against ” >


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