To What Extent Can Media Reporting Be Objective Essay
This essay will try to answer the question if objectivity in the media exists nowadays or not. It will start with analyzing the exact meaning of the adjective “objective” referencing to the media as well as comparing this meaning with a similar term. It will briefly cover the history of the idea of non-partisan press and broadcasters in order to show the process of evaluating objectivity in media. Then it will examine the concept of bias, the way it is created and reasons for doing it. The essay will also present the main factors and figures, which influence or want to influence the media as well as the way they try to do it.
Finally, it will analyze several examples of event coverage by media, which should be beneficial in trying to settle if the cover was objective or not, making it easier to draw a significant conclusion. To start with, the term “objective” should be explained. According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, “to be objective” means to “express or deal with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations” (http://www. m-w. com/dictionary/objective).
This should be understood as a word describing facts and information announced in a straight, truthful way, without any other influences such as an own point of view, opinion or emotions. Using this adjective with reference to the media, these influential factors may be for example the government, politicians or political parties trying to put their agenda behind the news, which have a very wide audience. Ken Newton (cited in Street, 2001, p. 18) adds: “A neutral media will present a full and fair account of the facts. ” However, a difference between “objectivity” and “balance” should be noticed.
According to Holli Semetko (cited in Street, 2001, p. 19), “to be objective is to let news values determine the coverage an event receives”, while “to be balanced, by contrast, is to give equal coverage to all the parties to an event, irrespective of the news value of their contributions. ” In a first case, it is a journalist, who decides about the importance of individual facts, trying to present an event from every possible point of view. In the second, the character of the information is no so important, but the length of article or time in the news matters.
John Street (2001) gives an example of the results of the research carried out by William Miller and his colleagues about British general election of 1987. Although the main three parties (Labour, Conservative and Alliance) got exactly the same quantity of time in a television, the impression was that the third one is not so important in a race for a power. This was achieved by the way, in which the Alliance was covered. Still, the idea of “objective media” is quite young. It did not exist before 1920s, when the newspapers were the only source of information.
Then, they were usually connected with a specific political party, so buying a paper, the reader knew, whose agenda was disseminated in it. When in the USA a radio appeared as a competition in informing, the leading ideology decided to introduce the system, in which the broadcasting became the public utilities. Having a monopoly in this kind of media, broadcast journalists could not allow themselves to be partisan any more and that was the moment, in which the idea of the objectivity in media was born. However, the longer system existed, the more troubles with the objectivity appeared.
Firstly, more and more TV and radio stations arisen and repeating the same story in the same way by all of them made the information not interesting any more. This led to presenting events from different points of view by different programmes and loosing their objectivity this way (http://www. chicagoboyz. net/archives/002429. html). Soon, people learnt to take advantage of this issue trying to influence the media to make them support the ideology presented by different groups. This is how the concept of bias was born. John Street (2001, p. 5) explains the bias as “the extant to which media content was systematically favourable to particular set of interests”. In practice, this means, that journalists or broadcasters in their articles and programmes provide a fuller cover of the one side of the event, simultaneously limiting the points on the other side. Their actions may be determinated by their editors, corporations they work for or the ideology they believe in (Street, 2001). There are certain ways to communicate the bias in the news. John Thompson (cited in Street, 2001) enumerates four of them.
The first one is legitimacy by supporting the certain idea or information by a respectable expert for example. The second one is dissimulation, which consists in presenting some social relations in order to show some aspects or people in a favourable and other in an unfavourable light. The next way is fragmentation, when the two groups, which can have something in common, are depicted as opposite to each other. Finally, there is reification, which means showing the world as a good enough in the way it is organized right now, without any need to change it.
However, there are much more less complicated possibilities to put someone’s agenda behind the news. Firstly, every single event consists of an innumerable amount of facts. Most of them are not really important to the matter (as, for example the registration numbers of the cars that took part in an accident). Because of the limited time on the air (or space in a paper), a journalist is forced to select the material, which he/she will present. This gives a great opportunity to manipulate the facts by not covering the event from every desirable point of view.
The next problem is that the certain information cannot be given by itself, it should be presented as a part of the story to have sense. It is commented by Hall (cited in Street, 2001, p. 31): “the event must become a ‘story’ before it can become a communicative event”. Creating this frame for the certain fact is a one more chance for a journalist to hide someone’s agenda in the news as the frame usually contains ideological elements. Street (2001, p. 35) sums it up this way: “News programmes do not tell one simple, consistent story, but reveal many different, conflicting dimensions to the way that politics is conveyed. It is not difficult to discover, for whom the influence on media is most important. “Possessing” the media means possessing the power, as they are often called ‘the fourth estate’. “Every state exercises some control over what journalists write or broadcast. Sometimes this control is blatant, sometimes it operates in more subtle ways, but all forms of public communication are subject to an element of regulation” (Street, 2001, p. 104). Politicians know how powerful this source of information is, so they are very determinated in trying to manipulate the news in a way, which is desirable for them.
To achieve this, they use their own power to limit the possibilities of using some information. However, nowadays in most of the states reign a democracy, in which one of the main rules is a freedom of speech. Therefore, the government has to introduce the communication law very carefully and every act should be very well thought out. It does not mean that the law like this does not exist at all. The majority of countries have some rules about it, and the difference between them is just a degree of a state control over the media (Street, 2001). Of course, it is not a censorship but for example not telling the whole true.
Rather than censor what threatens to become public, liberal states prefer to keep things secret, so that the issue of a ban never arises. If journalists know nothing, there is little need to censor them” (Street, 2001, p. 107). This way people interested in keeping some secrets are sure that something undesirable becomes public, as well as the constitutional rights are kept. It is obvious that when only it is possible, the states use media to the propaganda purposes. In some (especially in communist or young post-communist) countries this is possible, as the part of state channels is financed from the public money.
It gives an opportunity for a ruling party to appoint their people to the manager posts, which lead to a chance to influence on what exactly will appear in the news or in the paper. Fortunately, there are more and more private TV stations and newspapers, which result in a bigger variety of different points of view for a particular issue. How desirable for the ruling people the opportunity to influence as many media as possible is, proves the biggest corruption scandal in a post-communist Poland.
Mr Lew Rywin, the most famous Polish film producer, “visited the Communist-era dissident-turned-newspaper editor, Adam Michnik, in July last year and tried to induce him to part with $ 17. 5m. In return, Mr Rywin allegedly promised to secure changes in a broadcasting bill before parliament to enable the company that owns Mr Michnik’s newspaper to buy a television station. Without mentioning the names of any individual politicians, he allegedly claimed that he was acting on behalf of “people holding power”. ” (The Independent, 3. 12. 2003). Now, Mr Rywin is in custody for the corruption, but it still not known who “people holding power” were.
However, in some circles it is thought, that this qualification, among others, applies to then polish Prime Minister, Leszek Miller, or even the President of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski. Even in the USA, the country considered as the most democratic in the world, the media is not always as objective as it should be. Herman and Chomsky (1994, p. xii) claim: “Most biased choices in the media arise from the pre-selection of right-thinking people, internalized preconceptions, and the adaptation of personnel to the constraints of ownership, organization, market and political power”.
They also checked a cover of national elections in few Middle American countries and discover that if relations between USA and particular state were good, elections were called ‘democratic’. If not, adjectives that are more pejorative were used (Herman and Chomsky, 1994). Another example of the imperfection of the US media gives Kellner (cited in Street, 2001), who claims, that the treatment of the war against Iraq in 1990s, was “a product of a government public relations exercise” (ibid. : 32). He argues, that the American government was deciding which information should be published, and which should not.
This resulted in creating the reality in a way, which was convenient for the USA. Similarly, the situation with Saddam Hussein’s ‘intransigence’ during the negotiations was treated in the same way (Street, 2001). Herman and Chomsky (1994) call an example of a murder of a Polish Catholic priest, Jerzy Popieluszko in 1984. He was associated with Solidarity and murdered by the Polish Security Forces because of ‘speaking too much’. They describe the way in which the case was covered in the US media as in order “to generate the maximum emotional impact on readers” (ibid. 43). The aim of this procedure, as well as many others (like linking this event with Soviet Union or Bulgaria) was to present the communist regime in as unfavourable light as possible, as it was known from the very beginning, that the guilt from this murder can be attributed to the secret Polish police. However, in the same time, in Poland the sheer magnitude of the case meant that all people were aware of it, meaning that the government media could not remain silent any more. The story was covered in full by the Polish newspapers as well as the TV.
The government agreed, that the four officers of the Security Forces (which, in fact, were subordinate to the ruling party) were guilty and promised to punish them. All murderers spent time in prison. Yet, nowadays more and more people think, that the version of events given by the murderers during the trial in not the real one. In some circles it is believed, that the Popieluszko’s murder was a result of some ‘fights on the party top’ and that the communist government said loudly just what the world wanted to hear, blaming innocent people (http://www. poka. org. pl/biblioteka/T/TH/THO/popieluszko_14. html). Another problem is an existence of the media, which from the beginning assume a partiality showing in their programmes the only correct, in their opinion, point of view. A great example of this is the Catholic Radio Mary in Poland. Their broadcasters are mainly orthodox priests and people staying very close to the Catholic Church. The agenda they put in their programmmes is strongly right wing and, surprisingly, very anti-Semitic.
On the 11/09/2001, they blamed Jews as guilty of the attacks giving as evidence the fact that allegedly all Jews workers did not come to work that day. The radio has its regular audience, which are mainly, but not only, people older and these living in a countryside. Moreover, it has a very big influence on its listeners, which was proved in the last General and President Elections two months ago. Both elections were won by the people supported by the Radio Mary. As the polls show, the electorate of the party that won was to a large degree the audience of the radio (http://www. yborczy. pl/index. php? akcja=artykul&id=3451). John Street (2001, p. 18) describes journalism as “the distinction between ‘opinion’ and ‘fact'” in the same time pointing that where the opinion appears, the objectivity disappears making the news biased.
However, the idea of the ‘free press’ occurred in order to people have a possibility to express their own opinion, especially, if this opinion is different from the government’s one. Moreover, there is a question, if the ‘independent truth’ ever exists. According to Street (ibid. an objective reality is a myth, mainly because of the bias. The news and the articles are created by the people, who have to put facts in some kind of frame, which always has some ideological background. “All political coverage is ideological and has to be understood and judged as such” adds Kellner (cited in Street, 2001, p. 34). A great example of this ideological background as well as of using media to achieve some political aim is an example of Italy’s Prime Minister, Berlusconi, who, as a media mogul used his three TV channels in his political campaign (ibid. ).
The news is created by people. People, who usually have their own opinion on a certain issue. It is very difficult, if ever possible, to not to pass this opinion to the audience. Being objective becomes even more difficult, when journalists are pressed by some groups of very powerful people to put their agenda in the news. Examples presented in this essay show, that objectivity in media does not really exist as too many factors influence the result of journalists’ work. Media can be objective to the extent in which they are independent from the state, government or their owners.