Monday, 1 February 2010

Media Bias

""I eventually had to go down to the cellar..."
"That's the display department."
"...with a torch"
"The lights had probably gone."
"So had the stairs."
"Well, you found the notice, didn't you?"
"Yes. The plans were on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet, stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard""

(Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy)

Heard a snatch of "Talkback" on Sunday. I though Deputy Tracy Valois was a little disingenuous when she said that "Citizen Media" can be biased, while the accredited media has to present a balanced viewpoint.

While that is certainly true of the BBC under the terms of its charter, it cannot be said to be the same of newspapers. They may report facts, but how they select facts, and the way in which they present them is often partisan, and balance is not a requirement.

Should she be naive enough to think otherwise, I suggest she follows the election coverage in the U.K., which usually leads up to some papers putting statements in bold big print on their front pages "Vote Labour" or "Vote Conservative". Under Tony Blair, part of the campaign to win against John Major involved getting Rupert Murdoch, and the Murdoch newspapers to support the Labour Party.

This has always been the case, and the Jersey Evening Post is no exception to the rule. It has its own biases, and while it needs to be careful over factual reporting, it can decide how to present that. The criticism of Lenny Harper is a case in point - the Appeal Court judgement criticising his failure to return pocket books was on the front page, while his reply - when he stated that there were no pocket books, and they could check with Scotland Yard - was tucked away on the bottom of an inside page with a much smaller headline. It reminded me of the locked filing cabinet in the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"; it was there, but effectively in the cellar. Incidentally, it does not appear that they did check with Scotland Yard, an omission which is another way in which bias shows.

Unlike "Citizen Media", I do not see conspiracies around every corner. The BBC, for example, has been so emasculated by the Hutton Report and its aftermath that they have to follow massively strict rules on balance, and take great care in sources. There was a lot of rumpus on the blogs that they would not accept Lenny Harper's guest posting until they had it confirmed by him. Now there are lots of complaints that people are posting comments on the JEP and using the identity of those same people who were so keen to criticise the BBC. So it seems that checking on sources does matter after all, especially when you are on the receiving end of a kind of identity theft.

With regard to the JEP, some of their journalism, like their typesetting, is just plain sloppy - hence the lack of follow up. They chase the headlines, and Lenny's reply would probably have not have sold as many papers in the judgement of the editor. Sometimes articles end mid sentence, sometimes the weather is listed on page x, but is on page y. There is a variety of bias. Sometimes Ben Queree is extremely critical of all the States members, over time, everyone, including Daniel Wimberley or Geoff Southern has been praised. Letters columns are notorious, as Chesterton observed, for an editorial like and dislike, but all kinds of letters do get published. Yet the strictures about length are sometimes patently forgotten, most notably for a politician getting their voice heard. Sean Power's victory over Philip Ozouf was given a massive amount of coverage, probably because it involved drink, and the average man in the pub would clearly be pleased with the result, but it was hardly a serious matter, anymore than the froth on a pint.

The final, and best word on political bias goes to "Yes Minister". I still think that this should be recommended viewing for all politicians, especially those who, like Sir Humphrey, forget that any microphone could be a live one! But here is Yes Minister on newspaper bias:

Hacker: Don't tell me about the press. I know exactly who reads the papers: the Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by people who actually do run the country; the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; the Financial Times is read by people who own the country; The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country; and The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.

Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?
Bernard: Sun readers don't care who runs the country, as long as she's got big tits.


Anonymous said...

Hey tony. What's your critical analysis of the verita report. I look forward to gloves off approach. Or are u going to respectfuuly support it. I am pleased that It has proven that john day is a good man which IMO was never a doubt but it has left the rest of them IMO there to mess up again. Blame free culture is not right it should have always been a fair blame culture. That is the only way to stop this. there have been little lessons learnt since 2006 so why will it start now. The agenda is keeping their high paid jobs at all cost - where is the accountability. I look forward to you views

TonyTheProf said...

I'll be looking at the Verita report later in the week.