Can newspapers/the media ever be unbiased?

On March 26 2011, over 250,000 people protested in London as part of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) March for the Alternative. Ed Miliband spoke to crowds in Hyde Park, thousands walked through the city passing the Houses of Parliament and through Trafalgar Square in opposition to the governments’ fierce cuts. Impressive, honourable, a great achievement some would say.

But how much of that did you hear? A considerable amount of media coverage featured the destruction of Topshop on Oxford Street, a bonfire at Oxford Circus, the vandalisation of multiple banks and missiles that were thrown at the Ritz Hotel. This resulted in 214 arrests and 66 people injured, including 13 police. That’s certainly more interesting isn’t it?

The newspapers and media have been heavily criticised for focusing too much on the violent aspects of protests such as the tuition fee demonstrations in October of last year when the Conservative party headquarters at Millbank were attacked. However, the balance of reporting the interesting news and the news which is perhaps less interesting but nevertheless should be reported is difficult to achieve.

All newspapers and news sources are biased. They have their own political agendas, they support certain campaigns and they feature a spread of views and opinions of a range of the population.

Murdoch’s babies The Sun and The Times both supported the Conservatives in the 2010 General Election, as previously they have supported Labour. The media saw its own presence as so influential over the outcome of the 1992 General Election that The Sun even printed on its front page the next day, ‘it’s the Sun wot won it’.

The BBC of course is meant to be politically independent, as is the Independent, proudly claiming this on its front page. But can newspapers ever really be objective? Is there really a way of reporting on a story in a completely non-partisan and factual way?
In fact, this is impossible. There is no way of reporting in a non-partisan way. Everyone has a political agenda, whether they will admit it or not. Every reporter, every editor, every presenter, every member of the media is biased.

We are all political actors. You may not want to be involved in politics and wish to distance yourself as far as possible from such scheming corrupt men who use your taxes to buy moats and pay off their mortgages, but in holding this opinion, you yourself are dividing yourself into a category of the apolitical.

Therefore, I can gather that if you don’t vote, you probably care little about politics, probably don’t watch the news a lot and probably don’t care a great deal about what your local council are voting on at the present time. Of course this is not always necessarily true, but generally disengagement with politics will suggest this.

When picking up a newspaper, we must be aware of these views. An interview with David Willets will of course support the rise in tuition fees and we expect this when reading. A Liberal Democrat supporter might write favourably of a new policy while a Labour supporter might downplay its effectiveness or relevance. This doesn’t even have to be through how it is written; it could even be due to the placing or ordering of the text.

We are unable to stop ourselves from being a political actor purely for the sense of being a reporter. Our core values and ideologies and perceptions of the world cannot be removed from our consciousness when we write an article or present a TV show. Politics is inextricably linked to the media as it is intertwined within us all and it is impossible to completely disengage with it.

Even if we report on literally everything that is a clear and provable fact, we still discriminate when selecting our information. There is no possible way we could find out everything about an event all at once, and even less of a chance of fitting it all into one article. We must choose the information we feel is most important to go in, and leave out a large proportion of the material. There will never be a number of set pieces of information that must be included that everyone will agree with. Someone will argue that one point is more important than another. A section editor, a producer, a supervisor or a sub-editor may take out words or phrases they feel are irrelevant and replace it with what they feel should be included and this can happen at any stage.

A broadcast of ITV News at 10 may portray the events of a story in a very different way to the coverage on BBC. The order of the story, the content, the visual images that accompany it, the presenter, the demographics and the public opinion used could be completely different.

Even how the article or broadcasters is written or said can have an impact on the overall tone of the piece. Stress may be placed in different places in news broadcasts whereas seemingly harmless adjectives or connectives can twist the angle of a newspaper report without actually changing the main facts. Implications of what the story is trying to say can completely alter the meaning the original reporter was trying to convey, and we must be aware of this when consuming media products.

So, why do we try? Why do newspapers and the media even bother attempting to be unbiased when they can’t be?

Firstly, because they have to be. Those who are naïve to think that all news sources are valid and reliable must be reminded that there are differences between those and other media outlets who are openly enforcing of their own political opinions on the world. There have to be some outlets who are attempting to be independent and offer the public some form of news from which they can draw their own opinions.

Secondly, because they should be. Even if it is impossible to be completely independent politically, the media should aim to do so. People should have the opportunity to get the news as raw as it can be, the information presented as independently as possible. The media’s sole purpose should not be to persuade the public to have a certain opinion.

The world should not always be portrayed through the lens of another’s view. People need to be able to make up their own minds; to be individuals with independently formed thoughts on the world. Even if the media is unable to be completely unbiased, it should, at the very least, make an attempt to be so, in order to attempt to create a free and open press.

Read more: The Student Journals – Can the media ever be unbiased? 

Published Friday 8 April 2011 on The Student Journals Website.

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Filed under Journalism, Media, Politics

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