James Falk discusses media bias and finds that it is the undeclared bias of many journalists and reporters that is the problem rather than the declared bias of commentators:
[T]here is nothing wrong with media outlets having a strong policy view and publishing biased material – if it is identified as opinion. Media consumers clearly like the biases of opinionated commentators. The Press Council (http://www.presscouncil.org.au/statements-of-principles/) recognises that and sets a framework for it:
Publications are free to advocate their own views and publish the bylined opinions of others, as long as readers can recognise what is fact and what is opinion.
Where bias becomes an issue is in material delivered by people designated as reporters, journalists, correspondents and editors. Those job titles have traditionally implied a rigorous attempt to set aside personal biases and to report as neutrally as possible.
While they may quibble over the size and direction of bias, people of all political persuasions would agree that reporters in our media do not live up to that standard.
One of the problems is that too many opinion writers describe themselves as journalists or carry the bland title of editor or correspondent when a more accurate job description might be that of pundit or advocate. The other key problem is conflict of interest. Journalists are the gatekeepers of debate and shapers of perception, and infinitely more powerful than the average elected backbencher. It’s more than overt support or opposition for a policy view. How journalists choose words, shape questions, select quotes, edit stories, co-locate images, or even respond through body language can all shape voters’ perceptions of politicians and their policies.
Voters never get the chance to hold journalists accountable for how they exercise this power. Journalists never face election. Voters can only choose to consume media output or not. That consumer choice should be as informed as possible about journalists’ conflicts of interest.
Perhaps it is time that like the US, we have journalists and reporters register their political allegiance.
In any other industry that last statement would be unremarkable. Yet in journalism it has never been taken seriously.
For example, there has been no formal disclosure of political journalists – not commentators – who may be former staffers for Ministers, married to the party funtionaries, or living with a Minister whose portfolio they write about. There is no formal disclosure that a journalist mediating debate is a paid campaigner for a signature political issue. There is no disclosure that an environmental editor used to work for an advocacy group promoting one side of an environmental debate. There was no disclosure that a journalist drove a damaging story about a political enemy of a former girlfriend.
Only insiders know this type of information. Ordinary media consumers find out by accident.
It is obvious where my bias lies. Some people however do not like that I wear my bias on my sleeve, but then no reader of mine will ever die wondering where my loyalties lie.