The Bias of the Media

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.

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  • Patrick

    In this country the media makes shit up to sell their product, whether it be newspapers or advertising during news & current affairs programmes.
    You end up with Journalists interviewing Journalists – & their opinions are then reported as facts. Unfortunately most of the Journalists opinions are bullsh1t & are intended to sell the story.

  • cows4me

    Our local rag has obviously put a few hundred on the nose for climate change and you mos well piss into a force ten gale if you attempt to submit an opposing view. If I dare to challenge the editor on any article concerning climate change, at least two a week, my letter is binned. The people are forced fed propaganda from these dickheads fortunately their views are under constant review and are daily been challenged from a better informed population.

  • blokeintakapuna

    Yep – about time these thoughts were aired – we only need to look at the Churnalism aspect of how they were completely set-up with lies and propaganda by MUNZ down at the PoAL picket line… where the MSM eagerly swallowed the spoon-fed propaganda and lies – which all turned out to complete bull shit once this blog uncovered the entire story and the complete truth.
    I wonder who suffered the more damage to their credibility – the MSM regurgitating the propaganda or the churnalists repeating the lies because they have zero ability to check on and report the true and complete story.
    Either way, only WOBH and the NBR have any form of credibility in NZ reporting the true facts.. all the others are cut and paste desk jockey’s with zero ability to inspire credible journalism – probably because they’re being told how to position their articles – at least a prostitute can choose her own clients and how she wants to work – unlike these biased churnalists working at fast-crumbling NoTW style tabloids.
    Must be annoying for them that they were completly set-up and willingly used by deliberate lies, cheats, vandals and renta-thugs.

  • 2ndAmendment

    We don’t need vast numbers of communist MSM journalists to “out” themselves – we need to get rid of them, and have a few honest, capitalist freedom-loving journalists that will fight for success and freedom!

  • Dave

    A great article, and identifies the reason the MSM is in serious decline. Thire readers and viewers are sick and tired of being fed their person (or political) views of the world, even their propaganda. This is the very reason more and more people are turning cancelling their subscriptions to the likes of the Herald, and getting updates and real news, from Blogs such as WOBH. For one, an opinion is given, and then vigorously debated. One can make up their own mind.

    Blogs and independent sites are far better than being attached to the MSM drip feed line pumping out their daily bullshit and outright lies.

  • Andrewo

    Lucky for us the main stream media (MSM) are rolling over and dying of their own accord.

    Of more concern to me is the evident ‘groupthink’ within the media. By and large they are recruited from the ‘arty types’ at school who couldn’t do maths or science. They trot off to Victoria University to do their Media Studies degree and come out thinking they know how the world works. Over time this self-selection process gathers a bunch of left-of-centre fops into the MSM who pollute the thinking of voters through often inadvertant bias (I doubt there is a conspiracy – but maybe you know more than I) and sheer ignorance. They all become pals and cheer each other on, ‘knowing’ they’re correct.

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