It was Karl Kraus who said, “The truth is that the newspaper is not a place for information to be given, rather it is just hollow content, or more than that, a provoker of content. If it prints lies about atrocities, real atrocities are the result.” There is no such thing as an objective point of view. No matter how much we may try to ignore it, human communication always takes place between individuals and groups who are situated in specific historical, political, economic, and social contexts. Politicians are certainly biased; they belong to parties and espouse policies and ideologies. So does the media.
Media bias refers to the real or perceived tendency of journalists and news producers within the mass media to approach both the presentation of particular stories, and the selection of which stories to cover, with a perspective which is unbalanced due to political affiliation. In essence, the accusation of “media bias” generally refers to either censorship or propaganda as it may be carried out by particular news sources and media outlets. Proponents of media bias generally allege that such content is framed in the light of a preconceived political agenda, although it is equally true that accusations of media bias may often be employed for their rhetorical effect. In this case, journalists may be pressured to give equal weight to minority or unpopular views.
Some categories of bias could include:• Ethnic and racial bias: Including nationalism and regionalism. • Corporate bias: May include advertising, coverage of political campaigns, and the reporting of issues to favor a station’s corporate economic interests. • Class bias: Bias towards one social class, and ignoring social or class divisions.• Political bias: Bias towards a particular political viewpoint.• Sensationalism: A category which tends to supersede other biases, whereby news may be overemphasised, distorted or even manufactured to boost commercial ratings.
History of bias in the mass media
The mass media has a long history that can be dated back to the early days of the printing press, which some regard as the birth of the modern mass media. The expense of the early printing equipment meant that technical and monetary resources necessary for media production were only within reach of a limited number of people, and that these people could be expected to serve as the representatives of large or powerful social groupings. The notion of a free press is something of a modern invention, as early media organisations could expect a pronounced degree of lobbying, interference and even censorship from those with power.
For these reasons, the printing press was often used as a tool of political advocacy. The vast majority of newspapers were openly partisan in nature, with editorials integrated with the reporting of current events. It was not until the nineteenth century that the notion of unbiased reporting began to assume its status as essential to ethical journalism. Even today, however, journalism’s most objective and balanced reporters cannot completely avoid bias. Like newspapers, the broadcast media (radio and television) have been used as a vehicle for propaganda from their earliest days, a tendency made more pronounced by the initial ownership of broadcast media by national governments.
Although the continuing process of media deregulation has placed the majority of the western broadcast media in private hands, there still exists strong government presence, and even monopoly, in the broadcast media of many countries across the globe.
Pros & Cons of bias in the Media
Distortion of Facts
On March 16, 2005, CNN interviewed John MacArthur about the book The Purpose-Driven Life. Macarthur’s criticisms about the book were brief but substantive. He highlighted some significant points where the book is at odds with the message of Scripture. He pointed out, for example, that the true gospel is a call to self-denial, not self-fulfilment. The gospel is a message about redemption, not about life’s purpose.
The gospel according to Scripture deals with God’s law, His grace, human depravity, and redemption from sin, justification, sanctification, holiness, the nature of saving faith, and the lordship of Christ. And the true gospel’s most essential features are the cross of Christ and the truth of the resurrection. None of those subjects is dealt with adequately or biblically in The Purpose-Driven Life.
CNN removed virtually all the substantive comments from their interview and had a voice-over by the CNN reporter introducing John MacArthur as someone who ‘preaches the gospel of a stern God’, and identifying him as a ‘sceptic’. CNN also inserted remarks from secular media experts who seemed to think petty jealousy was the motive for the disagreement between the two pastors.
Personal Interests: For example, the secular news media does a poor job of reporting on the creation and evolution issue. In most cases, the reporting is overly biased in favour of evolution. Sometimes there is an attempt by a reporter or editor to be unbiased, but even in those situations; coverage is usually slanted in favour of evolution. In rare cases, the journalist tries to present the information in a fair and balanced manner.
Manipulation: The media can influence its subscribers to cause a predicted reaction, such example are of “spin-doctors” who “spin” a story and therefore intending the subscribers to react in a particular manner. This is deceitful and misleads others; although wrong this may be some Christians use these methods for evangelising non-believers.
Advertisement bias: Mass media organisations are also businesses – moneymaking businesses. As such, they must deliver a good product that will make a profit. Goods are defined in numbers and quality of readers or viewers. The news media will then bombard their readers or viewers with their goods offered.
We see celebrities endorsing goods that they themselves would not use. For a substantial sum of money they will say and do anything. However because of the media’s circulation, more advertisements for similar products allows greater variety of choice due to the competitive market. This allows people to select the product they want despite the bias.
Bad news bias: Good news is boring (and probably does not photograph well, either). This bias makes the world look more dangerous than it really is.
Glory bias: Journalists, especially television reporters, often insert themselves into the stories they cover. This happens most often in terms of proximity, i.e. to the locus of unfolding events or within the orbit of powerful political and civic actors. This helps journalists establish and maintain a cultural identity as knowledgeable insiders. The glory bias shows itself in particularly obnoxious ways in television journalism. News promos with stirring music and heroic pictures of individual reporters create the aura of omnipresence and omnipotence.
Visual bias: Television (and, increasingly, newspapers) is biased toward visual depictions of news. Television is nothing without pictures. Legitimate news that has no visual angle is likely to get little attention. Much of what is important in politics, such as policies, cannot be photographed. However because the media realises that things that are visual get a higher ratings the viewers cannot just hear about events in foreign countries, they must also be able to ‘see’ them.
Expediency bias: Journalism is a competitive, deadline-driven profession. Reporters compete amongst themselves for prime space or airtime. News organizations compete for market share and reader/viewer attention. And the 24-hour news cycle driven by the immediacy of television and the Internet creates a situation in which the competition never ends. Add financial pressures to this mix – the general desire of media groups for profit margins that exceed what’s “normal” in many other industries – and you create a bias toward information that can be obtained quickly, easily, and inexpensively.
The BBC has re-edited some of its coverage of the London Underground and bus bombings to remove the labelling of perpetrators as “terrorists”, it was disclosed yesterday. Early reporting of the attacks on the BBC’s website spoke of terrorists but the same coverage was changed to describe the attackers simply as “bombers”. The BBC’s guidelines state that its credibility is undermined by the “careless use of words which carry emotional or value judgments”.
Consequently, “the word ‘terrorist’ itself can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding” and its use should be “avoided”, the guidelines say. Rod Liddle, a former editor of the Today programme, accused the BBC of “institutionalised political correctness” in its coverage of British Muslims. A BBC spokesman said last night: “The word terrorist is not banned from the BBC”. The media can create a culture where we are afraid to say things the way we see them, for fear of offending others.
Christian entertainment programmes need not succumb to the secular ideology of the day. A Christian channel can, and should, challenge the tacit assumptions and hidden values underlying much of the national daily programming. It can pose this challenge by raising questions and by offering high-quality and wholesome alternatives. Take, for example, the treatment of religion. Religion is a part of life and should naturally occur in stories that reflect life. But if the religious aspect is totally omitted, or consistently presented as ridiculous or antiquated, this hostile approach will erode the audience’s sense of religion. A Christian channel can provide excellent entertainment that is at the same time in harmony with Christian values. Not watered down Christianity and conformity to secular methods instead we should see Christians methods for a Christian audience without any intimidation from secular broadcasters.
Lack of Trust
Bias reduces the demand for news because individuals are more sceptical of reports from news organisations that mislead their subscribers
Religion is underreported.
A study of weekday prime time news broadcasts on all the major stations in the USA (ABC, CBC, CNN, NBC and PBS) during 1993 found only 212 segments on religion out of a total of 18,000 story segments broadcast. Similar statistics were found in an analysis of morning and weekend news and magazine programmes. No similar study has been done on reporting in the United Kingdom. Some reporting on religion is presented in programmes such as “Songs of Praise”.
Defective picture of society
In general news coverage, religion does not receive the attention it deserves. A study on quality television in five countries including Britain showed that religion, as a category, was almost totally neglected in all-day programming and totally neglected in prime time programming in all five countries. It has been pointed out that by leaving out religion, the media present their audiences with a defective picture of society.
The media’s defective view includes the assumption that spirituality is declining in modern society. Yet audience members who see spirituality as an important part of their lives probably feel confused by the absence of coverage. The unease is increased by the fact that few self-described religious people subscribe to religious magazines or watch religious television. The sources for news about their religion must be the secular media.
Religion is presented with a secular bias
Top communicators, who set the national media agenda, are often prejudiced against religion. A study of 240 journalists in the elite American media revealed that most are not practising Christians: “A distinctive characteristic of the media elite is its secular outlook. Exactly half eschew any religious affiliation. Only one in five identify as Protestant, and one in eight as Catholic. Very few are regular churchgoers. Only 8 percent go to church or synagogue weekly, and 86 percent seldom or ever attend religious services.”
The same study illustrated that this lack of involvement influenced the way religion was presented in reports. “The most straightforward news report is the outcome of unavoidable choices that reflect the journalist’s sensibilities in weaving together fact and interpretation. A separate case study concerned the presence of sustained anti-Church bias in media reporting, referring especially to the Catholic Church in the USA. Christian churches, like other public bodies, are subject to public scrutiny and to just criticism of course, but they may rightly expect to be treated fairly and to be given a proper hearing. The facts speak differently.
Although the news on some issues was either favourable to the Church’s position or straight reporting of Church statements, the negatives outweigh the positives in the overall study. Coverage was structured to stress conflict typically between the hierarchy and dissidents among clergy, religious or laity. Descriptive terms applied to the Church emphasized its conservative ideology, authoritarian forms of control, and anachronistic approach to contemporary society. The language used carried connotations of conservatism, oppression and irrelevance.
Stewart Hoover, who has conducted much research on the media, concludes that religion is covered, as is the case with all-journalistic ‘beats’, according to a set of received definitions and conventions. Because reporters take the theory of secularisation as a fact, they tend to treat religion as a residual category of life at the margins of public discourse.
The perceived view of media coverage or religion is that it is a private matter, receding in influence, that its adherents are large concerned with their own particular faith and that they construct that faith within rather rigid historical and institutional boundaries.
Brian Healy, senior political producer for CBS News, testifies from his own experience to the dominance of secular ideology. There is rarely any debate in most television newsrooms on abortion, birth control, celibacy, curriculum oversight, and gays in the military, premarital chastity or condom distribution in high schools. Most reporters are prejudiced in favour of liberal positions, so their minds are already made up.
Public perception of the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, measured in studies commissioned by the broadcasting authorities, do not support the view that on the whole television is against religion. However, even among the general audience a majority (56%) believe that all too often television portrays negative stereotypes about religious groups. Only very few (less than 20%) feel that religion should not be discussed on TV.
BBC and ITV produce some religious programmes of high integrity. The programmers have religious advisers, listen to the Broadcasting Standards Council and periodically hold consultations on religious broadcasting. On the other hand, the media elite in Britain and Ireland is not less secularised than their counterparts in the USA. To ensure full and fair representation of the Christian point of view, there is a need of a Christian Channel that can arrange for in-depth discussion of topics neglected on national channels. This could include lively debates, talk shows, and well-researched documentaries.
Journalists are subjective
Weaver and Wilhoit discovered that journalists and the public differ on the importance of religion: “The percentage of journalists rating religion or religious beliefs as “very important” is substantially lower (38%) than the percentages in public 68%. They are far more pro-abortion than the public and elite journalists are much more pro-gay than the public.”
This means that when you turn on the television or pick up a major metropolitan newspaper, you may think you are getting news or entertainment; but instead you are getting deliberate brainwashing by people who think they know better than you what’s good for you to know and who are determined to “protect” you from any information they regard as “dangerous” such as the Christian standards of right and wrong on which this nation was built.
Authentic Christianity was the basis for the end of slavery, for the elevation of the status of women wherever the faith has been introduced, for the establishment of universities and hospitals and countless charities throughout the world. So what does Christianity “threaten”? However in the minds of the self-appointed elites, that’s enough to make us “dangerous” and that makes them dangerous to us, and to the survival of western civilisation which these self-appointed “elites” also hate.
Matthew 5:13 says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden underfoot.” Christians are to live differently than those who are not Christian; they should be people of integrity, so that those that are not saved will see our fruits and will find no fault with our integrity.
Secular Media’s Assault on Biblical Truths
Reports, editors, authors and media owners are participating in spreading anti-Biblical messages. Here are a few of the more common examples of the issues the secular media addresses:• Promoting evolutionism in its various forms• promoting homosexuality • attacking Biblical corporal punishment• promoting abortion
Media only reports only what it wishes
This results in a great loss of detail, and that’s where the TV producer’s personal bias comes into play: he or she decides what parts of a story to include or omit. As many people have pointed out, broadcast news is dangerous, not because of what’s reported, but because of what is not reported. This applies equally to both television and radio.
The kind of hatred being expressed by the media towards Christians and Jews today is a form of persecution where there is no martyr’s blood, only their frustration for us to conform to their philosophy. When over 200 million Christians in Communist and Muslim dictatorships live under severe persecution, they will not know that about 160,000 Christians are murdered for their faith every day. Those facts don’t make the news, because they are not “politically correct”.
On issues such as abortion, most journalists say they believe women should have a legal right to an abortion at any time; however most of the general public believe there should be a legal restriction on abortion. Also, a survey recently conducted by Lichter’s research found that 75% of media do not agree that homosexuality is wrong, and even a larger proportion, 85%, said that it’s OK for homosexuals to teach in public schools. This is a result of a decade of relentless pro-gay media propaganda.
Biasness in the media may be impossible to avoid in today’s fast-paced 24-hour news coverage. News programs today are apparently designed to retain the attention of hyperactive and impatient viewers — people with dozens of other channels from which to choose, and a remote control always nearby (forty years ago, when you had to get up and walk across the room to change the channel, people stuck with a program for its duration). You’ll rarely see a news story these days, especially during ratings periods, in which a single shot lasts more than three seconds. On a normal day, almost every story is told in less than two minutes.
My answer to the question, “Should the national media refrain from incorporating so much bias into news stories?” is yes, they should be stopped from incorporating bias into news stories. However from my research it seems that this is impossible as everyone has an opinion and their own worldview. So what may even be proposed to be unbiased will be bias to someone else. I believe the reason we have this problem is because Christian morality has been removed from our society and there is no touchstone for ethics and values.
We have become so politically correct that even our very words do not mean much. There are even some Christian broadcasters such as Premiere Radio who are so fearful of offending anyone, they have recently inserted a disclaimer whenever the message is preached.
“Whoever acknowledges me before people, I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven. Whoever disowns me before people, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33). Christians should be an active voice confronting the lies of the world and challenging them with the truth. Absolute truth can only be found in Christianity and that is not being biased – it’s a fact
Categories: Defending the Faith