Media Bias

Media bias is the bias of journalists and news producers in the selection of events and stories that are reported.  A practical limitation to media neutrality is the inability of journalists to report all available stories.  Because it is impossible to report everything, selectivity is inevitable.

Types of bias: The most commonly discussed forms of bias occur when the media support or attack a particular political party, candidate, or ideology. Other common forms of bias include

Advertising bias, when stories are selected or slanted to please advertisers.

Corporate bias, when stories are selected or slanted to please corporate owners of media.

Mainstream bias, a tendency to report what everyone else is reporting, and to avoid stories that will offend anyone.

Sensationalism, bias in favor of the exceptional over the ordinary.

Concision bias, a tendency to report views that can be summarized succinctly, crowding out more unconventional views that take time to explain.

Other forms of bias including reporting that favors or attacks a particular race, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnic group, or even person.

Political bias has been a feature of the mass media since its birth. Early publishers often served the interests of powerful social groups. In the 19th century, journalists began to recognize the concept of unbiased reporting as an integral part of journalistic ethics. Like newspapers, the broadcast media (radio and television) have been used as a mechanism for propaganda from their earliest days. The concentration of media in private hands, and frequently amongst a comparatively small number of individuals, has led to accusations of media bias.

 Role of language: Language may be seen as a political factor in mass media, particularly in instances where a society is characterized by a large number of languages spoken by its populace. The choice of language of mass media may represent a bias towards the group most likely to speak that language. Language may also be a more subtle form of bias. Use of a word with positive or negative connotations rather than a more neutral synonym can form a biased picture in the audience’s mind. It makes a difference whether the media calls a group “terrorists” or “freedom fighters” or “insurgents”.

Anglophone bias in the world media: It has been observed that the world’s principal suppliers of news, the news agencies, and the main buyers of news are Anglophone corporations and this gives an Anglophone bias to the selection and depiction of events. Anglophone definitions of what constitutes news are paramount; the news provided originates in Anglophone capitals and responds first to their own rich domestic markets. They see the presentation of the English language as international as a further feature of Anglophone dominance.

National and ethnic viewpoint: Many news organizations reflect in some way the viewpoint of the geographic, ethnic, and national population that they primarily serve.

Western media are often criticized in the rest of the world  as being pro-Western with regard to a variety of political, cultural and economic issues.

Religious bias : The media are often accused of bias favoring the majority religion, or attacking the majority religion. In some countries, only reporting approved by a state religion is permitted. In other countries, derogatory statements about any belief system are considered hate crimes and are illegal.

Other influences: The apparent bias of media is not always specifically political in nature. The news media tend to appeal to a specific audience, which means that stories that affect a large number of people on a global scale often receive less coverage in some markets than local stories.  For example, the deaths of millions of people in an ethnic conflict in Africa might be afforded scant mention in American media.

Bias is also known to exist in sports broadcasting tending to favor teams based in their respective country and teams that include high-profile celebrity athletes. The reason for these types of bias is decided by what  the public wants to watch.

However, the editorial staff retains the freedom to decide what is covered as well as what is not. Biases, real or implied, frequently arise when it comes to deciding what stories will be covered and who will be called for those stories.

Efforts to correct bias:  A technique used to avoid bias is the “point/counterpoint” or “round table”, a format in which representatives of opposing views comment on an issue. This allows diverse views to appear in the media. However, the person organizing the report still has the responsibility to choose people who really represent the breadth of opinion, to ask them neutral questions, and to edit their comments fairly. When done carelessly, a point/counterpoint can be as unfair as a simple biased report. Using this format can also create a misleading appearance that viewpoints have equal validity (sometimes called “false balance”).

Another technique used to avoid bias is disclosure of affiliations. Commentators on news stories involving stocks are required to disclose any ownership in those corporations or in its competitors.

In rare cases, a news organization may dismiss or reassign staff members who appear biased.

Finally, some countries have laws enforcing balance in state-owned media.

Objectivity, on the other hand,  may be understood as neutrality. Journalistic objectivity can refer to fairness, disinterestedness, factuality, and nonpartisanship, but most often encompasses all of these qualities. Such objectivity is nearly impossible to apply in practice — newspapers inevitably take a point of view in deciding what stories to cover, which to feature on the front page, and what sources they quote.

Media critics such as Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky  have described a propaganda model that they use to show how in practice such a notion of objectivity ends up heavily favoring the viewpoint of government and powerful corporations.

Brent Cunningham, the managing editor of Columbia Journalism Review, argues that objectivity excuses lazy reporting. Objectivity makes us passive recipients of news, rather than aggressive analyzers and explainers of it. According to Cunningham, “objectivity” becomes a problem when  the press is expected to be neutral yet investigative; be disengaged but have an impact; be fair-minded but have an edge. Objectivity is not possible because no individual, including a journalist, embodies all perspectives of a society. Reporters by and large are not ideological warriors. They are imperfect people performing a difficult job that is crucial to society.

An “editorial opinion” is the stated opinion of a newspaper or of its publisher, as conveyed on the editorial page.


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