Is the News Media Biased?

The Unreported Journalist.  #IanPLoftus

Like many of my friends, I have slowly become disillusioned with the quality of media news reporting since 23rd June 2016. Perhaps we didn’t notice it before, but as people voted on the most important decision the majority of us will ever make in our life and times, we feel that many of the accounts on the E U referendum have been one sided. I have to say, this bias was much more in favour of the remain camp than the leave, but either way it doesn’t matter, this piece isn’t about sides, it’s about why journalism has left the equitable high ground, and has now entered into the debate, with opinions.

My old fashioned idea of journalism or reporting was; to present the facts, first hand, and in a balanced report. I aspired to this when I was fourteen thinking about careers. Sadly, I have to say, I didn’t go down that route, and my schoolboy view doesn’t seem to be the case any more. Many high profile journalist now often have their own agenda, or follow those of their news outlet, and comment on situations which clearly show a thinly veiled biased view.

They, again mainly high profile journalists, are turning into ‘commentators’ which is fine, but there are certain ways and situations to present that kind of reportage, particularly in the written media. And many ‘Commentators’ do this very well in the press. You always know which side politically they are on, there’s no hidden agenda or thinly disguised pretence of even trying to be balanced. You either buy that paper or you don’t, depending on your views.

I feel the clue is in the word ‘reporter.’ I’m guessing derived from the Latin. ‘Re’ for ‘back’ and ‘portandum’ to ‘carry.’ And, ’Reporto’ is the latin for ‘I carry’ but I’m willing to accept corrections from the word police.

Is this type of reporting happening because editors are looking for original journalism?

I ask that because on a Sky advert today, advertising themselves, the anchor boasted, ‘the only channel with original content.’ Surely, depending how you define ‘original’, the report is the report, particularly in things like ‘Breaking News?’ I might be doing Sky an injustice, and the originality she spoke about is the stories they cover that no-on else is reporting on?

I hurt my arm skiing in January and haven’t been able to drive. Consequently whilst working at my desk, I have had the news on in the background for much of the time. I have watched the news on an off from 7am to 1am the next day, channel hopping between, Sky, Fox, BBC, CNN and Al Jaazera et al, trying to find something new or an unbiased balanced view.

My findings, after four weeks of intense viewing are; the news channels all basically report the same stories and frankly, if you take away the branding of the organisation at the top of the screen, it’s getting very difficult to establish the difference between them. The formats are the same, their views on the story are the same and most disconcerting are the one to one interviews. There’s always the combative approach from many journalists particularly if they have a politician beside them. The journo’ jousts back and forth with them, trying to skewer and embarrass them, very often interrupting them as they answer the question put to them, ‘because they really want to get at the truth of the story.’ The truth is, many of them want to hear the sound of their own voice and more importantly, drive the agenda and their own opinion on the topic.

I googled the meaning of the word journalism, and pulled it off the web, deleting the bits irrelevant to this piece. ‘Ahh, he’s miss directing to prove his point,’ you might argue, but honest Joe, the other bits where actually just not relevant.

a :  the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media

b :  writing designed for publication in a newspaper or magazine

c :  writing characterised by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation

d :  writing designed to appeal to current popular taste or public interest

As well as the pressure from the editor, as everyone is fighting for readers or viewers, there is now also the conundrum of points c: and d: above to content with.

As previously stated, I don’t want to make this into an EU story it’s not, but the way much of the media reported the referendum as it unfolded, as a viewer it started me thinking about how the media’s spin on a story, how ever small can influence a reader or an audience.

As a leaver, it was very frustrating when watching many of the news articles and even a Question Time (Q T) program just recently. The panel consisted of David Dimbleby, clearly unbiased, three remainers and just the one leave campaigner. That combination was always going to end up going in one direction, but it was another one of the things that got me even more interested in this issue of unbalanced reporting.

During the debate, and this program is now just the tip if the politically biased iceberg, David constantly interrupted the leaver when speaking, often after a few seconds and fired another question at her putting further pressure on having not answered the first question satisfactorily. He mainly let the remainers carry on, uninterrupted, and more ashamedly, he explained the point they were making even further.

Whilst Q T IS a politics program and we expect, even relish the cut and thrust of the debate, it’s unbalanced approach gives the viewer a twisted view of what should be an objective argument. Therefore it presents an overexposed view of one side in the debate, consequently changing or confusing opinions. For me as an informed viewer, that’s dangerous, even more so for the viewers on the sideline of the debate wanting to make a decision.

More often than not now, I and my friends find ourselves screaming at the TV screen, or posting frustrated FB messages, and not just during Q T, ’You asked him a bloody question, let him answer it!’ This seems to have crept over from the dedicated political show, when we had the likes of Jeremy Paxman who was so desperate to trip the interviewee up and prove him or her wrong or to be lying, that he became rude, over into the normal everyday News program,

So, here I am, trying to give an unbiased opinion on the biased opinions of the UK media and press.

After four weeks of being desk bound and over indulging in a news fest, I’ve concluded that there are several different types of media bias. The most common include: Bias by omission, that is just leaving stuff out, which occurs when the media just focus on one side of a story, or one aspect of a story, even such as the Q T approach by ‘talking over’ some guests giving the other view more airtime.

There’s bias by selection of sources, which occurs when media outlets leave out sources or interviewees that support an opposing point of view. We’ve seen this recently with the UK immigration debate, especially around the migrants at Calais. The reporting always covers the 1000’s of migrants at the camps, who are starving, cold, living in poor conditions, travelling for months across Europe from their war torn country of origin, ripped off by a trafficker, but now can’t get over to the UK. Compelling viewing, especially with interviews with the migrant. What the reporter invariably fails to say, is that the migrant has crossed six other countries where they could have claimed asylum and need not be in that desperate situation.

Then there’s a bias by story selection, and I’ve seen this right across the US news channels. This type of bias is a pattern of reporting stories that coincide with a specific agenda, which at the moment is ‘Anti-Trump.’ This type of bias occurs when a media outlet regularly reports stories that support only one political point of view. This is similar to bias by story placement. This variation occurs when a news outlet prominently places stories that coincide with a specific agenda while ‘burying’ those that represent an opposing point of view, again, ‘Anti-Trump is still relevant here.

I really didn’t want to head into Donald Trump territory, but for the sake of clarity, biased reporting is not the same as Fake news, but can be just as dangerous. I do suspect though that many of the news stories that President Trump refers to as ‘Fake,’ are actually just a story with the reporters or that media’s outlet own spin on it. Trumps feels they are not in his favour.

As a suggestion, perhaps the main stream political media could take a leaf out of the Six Nations reporting. Rugby is just as passionate and as absorbing as politics, and everyone including the supporters are an expert with a view. The reporting, whether by the English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, French or Italian media, is well made without bias. And at then, everyone has a drink in the bar.

This essay is purely about the quite obvious news bias I’ve encountered since my accident. So, whilst I’ve mentioned various programs, people or current news, this only reflects my own opinions, as I ‘Carry it’ to you.

Naively I did a Google search today, on ‘Biased News reports in the UK.’ I had a return of 2.7 million hits on the same subject.

Clearly it isn’t just me then?


2 thoughts on “Is the News Media Biased?

  1. Ian
    An interesting and thought provoking analysis.
    As an old school trained journalist who cut his teeth in a traditional newsroom I can attest to your definition of what good journalistic reporting should be and you are right that there is a lot less quality writing now.
    Opinion has become the new fact, research and fact checking have been sacrificed on the 24 hour newsfeed altar and bias and provocation are chasing the ratings. I can’t tell you the number of times I read something and question its legality when measured against the standards of journalism I was taught.
    Fear and hate sell newspapers now because fewer of us value real news. Why digest just facts when a provocative opinion is sure to hold our attention for a micro second longer?
    It’s a sad indictment of the world we have created but I fear the unbiased news you and I yearn for is dead and buried.

    1. Thanks Simon,
      I hope you didn’t do a spell check, but I’m sure you probably did ‘mentally’ check my grammar!
      Like you I have strong opinions about the things I’m passionate about, but never unshakeable. I have changed my view about things, particularly people. However, as consumers, we have the hard job of trying to place a report into the spectrum of our understanding and opinion about its content, especially if we do have a strong view about it . So, when we are not presented with the full evidence by the writer, it makes it much more difficult to decide if it’s ratified our view, or given us doubts.
      I remember someone once said that bad news sells better than good news. I feel now that the media outlets try to ‘out bad’ their competitors on the story, to the detriment of presenting the whole picture.

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