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MAC201 Level 2 lecture on news and impartiality. Updated October 2013

MAC201 Level 2 lecture on news and impartiality. Updated October 2013

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  • Steve Jones (biologist): the BBC was still wedded to an idea of "false balance" in presenting climate sceptics alongside reputable scientists.
  • Carrying on from Public Sphere, It is often said that the news media represent the “ forth estate ” - separate from the church, the judiciary and the commons (see Allan, 1999: 49). Quote
  • Media have two functions, democratic and watchdog. Democratic role - The responsibility of the press is to present a range of different ideas of events which are of general interest to the public so that they can make sense of the world around them. Watchdog role – the press bring ... So investigative journalism of all forms is a vital strategy in the claims that the press act in this fashion.
  • However, the democratic approach has been critiqued by many including the former journalist Karl Marx: So, Marx says that the media sets agendas, these agendas are formed and created by members of the ruling class – If we think about this in a bit more depth, the ruling class within this context is the media institutions (replacing the traditional form of the public sphere) Quote If look at this further problems arise – the European media institutions are dominated by white males so this perhaps results in a marginalisation of minorities? Does everyone have a fair say in the media? What groups misrepresented? Ethnic minorities are under represented within journalism and to a certain extent so are women. So, if the media is dominated by white males, will they publish material to maintain their power within society? Quote Therefore, if we look back at the public sphere last week, does everyone have access to it? Is participation equal? Do the media challenge dominant ideals and stereotypes?
  • However, the democratic approach has been critiqued by many including the former journalist Karl Marx: So, Marx says that the media sets agendas, these agendas are formed and created by members of the ruling class – If we think about this in a bit more depth, the ruling class within this context is the media institutions (replacing the traditional form of the public sphere) Quote If look at this further problems arise – the European media institutions are dominated by white males so this perhaps results in a marginalisation of minorities? Does everyone have a fair say in the media? What groups misrepresented? Ethnic minorities are under represented within journalism and to a certain extent so are women. So, if the media is dominated by white males, will they publish material to maintain their power within society? Quote Therefore, if we look back at the public sphere last week, does everyone have access to it? Is participation equal? Do the media challenge dominant ideals and stereotypes?
  • Slide So, it should be becoming clearer that news is not value-free, but value laden and it functions ideologically, to disseminate specific ways of seeing the world. So we are fed information about the world from a white dominated male discourse.   However, journalists claim that they work objectively - scientific approach to making statements unbiased PCC code states that journalists must report matters fairly, accurately, balanced and objectively. But what is objectivity?
  • Objectivity is a theoretically contested term applied to news – simply means trust But, News is always going to subjective Quote In short, news is said to be ideological – argued by critics that objectivity is another ideology The media can manipulate the news to conceal ‘ bias ’ , this may be intended or unintended
  • Slide: Newspaper sales decreasing – less money in newspapers than before – example of why we don ’ t see as much investigative journalism. Early press, more time – better evaluation of stories. Traditional public sphere - people subjected to a more in depth version of reality than the ‘ mediated public sphere ’ ? Slide: Growth of technology – deadlines tight – more first out there with the breaking news – quality suffered? Slide: As long as the who, what, when, where, how is reported – all that matters – not so much why? Reporting these areas allows journalists to send out information quickly The media don ’ t act as a mirror to the world and report its reflection. The production of news is confined by the impact of time and cost – which is why the same stories are presented across all forms of the media – this is due to market pressures, institutional factors among others.
  • Fishman (1980: 51) claimed that ... As a result – hierarchies are formed. For instance, a journalist knows that in order to cover a story on wind farms and their environmental impact, they can contact a number of people in related fields... They will all be able to offer perspectives, thus the journalist knows where to position him/herself in relation to locating suitable sources.
  • Hall and the other authors pointed out that this bureaucratic structure exists. Their investigation demonstrated how news statements tend to be dependent upon ‘ authoritative ’ statements from ‘ legitimate ’ institutional sources
  • The routine professional rules of news production serve to represent the ‘ opinion of the powerful ’ . Instead of greater objectivity or neutrality, we get institutional voices defining the reality of an event (link this with Habermas ’ public sphere). Sources who have a high status position in society therefore become more likely to be given a voice by the media – Seen as ‘ primary definers ’ on controversial topics. It ’ s a reliance on these ‘ primary definers ’ whereby problems with objectivity arise. Discuss this in relation to terrorism
  • Islam linked to terrorism for over a decade. Thus, as the British media continue to publicise the threat of Islam, especially with regards to terrorism, this effectively stirs up hatred and causes friction within society. Muslims – not compatible with Western way of life Media tell us all the facts? Look at persecuted groups in society - change over time. Every so often the persecuted groups change. Shows the power of the media – can manipulate the audience from what they publish – influence our ideologies on contentious issue such as ‘ race ’ and religion.
  • If society is fed information that continually links Muslims and terrorism together – do we believe that they are all terrorists? Some people will! Do the media promote what Muslims are doing positively in this country – what they are achieving in the art world, promising steps of integration into mainstream popular culture, have the media told us that there are over 10,000 Muslim millionaires in Britain? Muslims contribute an overall £31bn a year to the economy. Look at media ownership – white males – protect position of power – downplay minority groups Why are they seen as primary definers? Public sphere – should they even be allowed a voice by the media. Links to Nick Griffin – should we really be subjected to what he has to say? Is what he is saying in aid of public betterment?
  • Bell ’ s (1991) study of journalists in New Zealand - A tendency for pre-packaged news items to be favourable over much more newsworthy stories Pre-packaged meaning stuff already written – easier than writing a whole story from scratch Over70% of newspapers ’ material has come from a PR source – as a result can the media really be objective? Media credible? Look at the press association...
  • So certain factors which we ’ ve discussed have shown that objectivity is perhaps obscure. It may be better to think in terms of impartiality which Allan defines as...
  • Slide But if we think back to institutional voices and hierarchies, can the media be impartial? So, we need to take account explicit or implicit ideological cultural bias – keep an open mind when reading the newspaper or watching the television? Is the reporting really fair and accurate? Remember the Brazilian who was shot on the tube – from the Express ’ front page – are they being impartial? No – supporting the police against a ‘ foreigner ’ – supporting the dominant ethnic group in contemporary society? Surely this is bias and not objective or impartial? Media try to get the facts out ASAP – but as we see with some stories – they change as time goes by – Princess Diana/ London bombings are examples of this
  • Due impartiality may be the ideal scenario but you have to question whether it is attainable?
  • “ To ensure that news, in whatever form, is reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality ” – need to adhere to section 5 of the OFCOM code What they mean by ‘ due ’ is simply – not favouring one side over the other. But this is significant because it means that the media don ’ t have to give equal amounts of coverage to each argument. This rule is seen as a protection system: means that news producers don ’ t have to give vast coverage to right-wing political groups such as the BNP (although their views may be seen to of interest to the public)? So as a result, ‘ due impartiality ’ perhaps undermines some of Habermas ’ ideals of the public sphere?
  • So you could argue that objectivity is an ideal that can never be achieved – due to strict deadlines etc

Mac201   impartiality lecture Mac201 impartiality lecture Presentation Transcript

  • #MAC201 Robert Jewitt robert.jewitt@sunderland.ac.uk News: objectivity, impartiality & balance 1
  • Handy background reading 2
  • Which? Report (2012) Professions by percentage of people who said they are trustworthy: 3
  • Which? Report (2012) Professions by percentage of people who said they are trustworthy: 4 1. Politicians 7% 2. Journalists 7% 3. Bankers 11% 4. Estate agents 11% 5. Builders 19% 6. Civil servants 25% 7. Accountants 29% 8. Lawyers 35% 9. Engineers 56% 10. Teachers 69%
  • 5
  • 6 “This goes to the heart of science reporting – you wouldn't have a homeopath speaking alongside a brain surgeon for balance, as that would be absurd. It's just as absurd to have a climate sceptic for balance against the work of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists.” - Steve Jones, biologist
  • 7
  • Session Outline Introduction Fourth Estate What is objectivity?  Origins of objectivity  Objectivity in practice – Examples... What is impartiality? What do we mean by balance? Conclusion 8
  • Power of the media: Fourth Estate The “forth estate” - separate from:  the church  the judiciary  the commons (see Allan, 2004: 47) “The public trust most of the things they read in newspapers so journalists must be responsible in the way they present issues that directly affect the lives of others”  (Nyaira, 2004: 34 cited in Harcup, 2007: 3). 9
  • Power of the media: Fourth Estate 1. “Democratic” role:  help the public understand the world around them 1. “Watchdog” role:  “bring misdemeanours to the attention of the public”  See Conboy, 2004: 110 10
  • Criticisms... “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.”  (Karl Marx, 1845) 11
  • Criticisms... Ethnic minorities “opinions are less asked or found less credible or newsworthy, also because most journalists (and virtually all editors) are white” (Cottle, 2000: 36) 12
  • A fair say? Allan (2004: 52) points to the increasing marginalisation of voices in: ◦ The labour movement ◦ Trade unions ◦ Feminists ◦ Anti-racists ◦ Environmentalists ◦ Anti-poverty activists ◦ Groups committed to progressive social change 13
  • Objectivity: Simply: Trust & Reliability Factors include: Factual accuracy; unbiased, separation of fact from comment, not taking sides “Controversy about the term stem mainly from the view that true objectivity is unattainable and it is misleading to pretend otherwise” (McQuail, 2000: 500). Ideological... 14
  • Truth? Whose ‘truth’? Truths based on facts? Facts require full contexts Facts must be accurate Does the news have time and space to explore all issues ‘truthfully’? 15
  • Objective reporting 1. What? 2. Who? 3. When? 4. Where? 5. How? And if possible…. 6. Why? For more see:  Manoff and Shudson, 1986: 2-10;  Sigal, 1973: 66-9. Objectivity = verifiable facts (not interpretation) Extra's: incident, interview, 16
  • Verification 17
  • Pressure to remain profitable & cost-effective hinders lengthy investigative journalism 24 hour production cycle forces tight deadlines upon journalists - New technologies enhance the speed of reporting Work to set rules of practice, proven to get results in an attempt to explain the unpredictable Routinising the unexpectedRoutinising the unexpected (see Allan, 2004: p64)(see Allan, 2004: p64) 18
  • Story quotas uncovered… Typical scaremongering story in Metro News  ‘Game Transfer Phenomena’ 19
  • Story quotas uncovered… “The Metro, they obviously had an agenda - because all [the reporter] said was that he just wanted to know about the negative stuff. I told him that the paper was primarily positive, or at least neutral. He said 'I don't want to know about that, I want to know the negative stuff.' So I just went through what we did, what we found and what we are doing next.” Prof Griffiths, author of the study!!! 20
  • Hierarchies The farm owners or residents Local politicians (Councillor Tony Ball) Bailiffs Environmental health officials Campaigners Journalists rely on a commonsensical understanding that society is bureaucratically structured (Fishman, 1980: 51) For example: Dale Farm eviction 21
  • BBC1 coverage ITV1 coverage Images of protester in concrete 3 second soundbite of angry resident 5 second soundbite of campaigner 5 second soundbite of resident 20 second piece by Councillor Audio of aggressive residents 18 second appeal by bailiffs 2 second soundbite of angry resident Images of celebrations 10 second piece by Councillor 22
  • ‘‘Primary definersPrimary definers’’ ‘This means constantly turning to accredited representatives of major social institutions – M.P.s for political topics, employers and trade union leaders for industrial matters, and so on…’  (Hall et al, 1978: 58) 23
  • ‘‘Primary definersPrimary definers’’ ‘Such institutional representatives are “accredited” because of their institutional power and position, but also because of their “representative” status: either they represent “the people” (M.P.s, Ministers, etc.) or organised interest groups’  (Hall et al, 1978: 58) 24
  • Reporting of Islam “The attack is not against Islam as a faith but Muslims as people” (Halliday, 1999: 898).  Different forms of Islamic belief?  1960s – immigration (problem of numbers)  1970s & 80s – Black community (criminals) & Irish (IRA/ terrorism)  1990s to present – Muslims (Un-British/ terrorists) & Asylum (damaging to Britain) 25
  • Is Islam reported objectively? Empirical work – “72% of articles over a six month period in The Sun contained the words terrorism and Islam together” (April – September 2008). “The public trust most of the things they read” Any event concerning Islam, who do the media turn to as a source??? 26 Abu Hamza Omar Bakri
  • Contemporary media: Quick & Easy Bell’s study (1991) – pre-packaged news Newsmakers rely on:  Interviews (face to face, phone, email, etc)  Public addresses  Press conferences  Reports, letters, minutes, surveys, etc  Press releases  News agency copy 27
  • The influence of news agencies and PR 28 From Flat Earth News:  Direct rewrites of PA article: 30%  Largely reproduced from agencies: 19%  Contained elements: 21% News sourced from press agencies: 70%  (this excludes PR material which would push figure even higher) In SunSpace: Justin Lewis, Andrew Williams and Bob Franklin, 2008, ‘Four Rumours and an Explanation: A political economic account of journalists’ changing newsgathering and reporting practices’ in Journalism Practice, Vol 2, No 1, pp 25-45.
  • The influence of news agencies and PR 29 From Flat Earth News:  “PA has such credibility that media outlets treat it as a reliable source which does not need to be checked. The BBC’s internal guidelines … specifically instruct their journalists that they must have at least two sources for every story – unless it is running on PA … A special notice issued by the BBC journalism board on 1 December 2004 told the staff: ‘The Press Association can be treated as a confirmed, single source’”  Davies, 2008: p74-5
  • The rise ofThe rise of ““impartialityimpartiality””?? Defined as: A “sound practice [that] makes clear distinction between news reports and expressions of opinion. News reports should be free of opinion or bias of any kind” (American Society of Newspaper Editors, 1923 in Allan, 2004: 22) 30
  • ““ImpartialityImpartiality”” has become…has become… The doctrine of “not taking sides” in the reporting of public affairs Realisation of the impossibility of absolute “objectivity”, seeking “balance” instead 31
  • BUT… In the context of unexpected breaking news, how do you achieve balance? Developments are unknowable? ????? ????? 32
  • ““Due impartialityDue impartiality”” “To ensure that news, in whatever form, is reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality”  http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/broadcasting/broadcast-codes/bro BBC have extra guidelines  http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/our_work/other/century21.s 33
  • 34
  • Accusations of bias BBC Trust 5 impartiality reviews since 2007:  2013: religion and ethics, UK/EU relationship, immigration  2012: “Arab spring”  2012: science coverage  2008: 4 nations  2007: business coverage 35
  • Conclusion Objectivity can never be satisfied due to the structural limitations of strict deadlines for news and the consequences of routinising the unexpected. News aims for impartiality which is problematic given that news selection and positioning means subjective value decisions still have to be made The ‘truth’ of news is that it is ideological 36
  • Points to consider: Objectivity? (is it possible?) Impartiality (Is it necessary?) What are the techniques by which the news makes itself credible? 37
  • Sources  S. Allan, 2004, News Culture 2nd Edition, Berkshire: Open University Press  A. Bell, 1991, The Language of the New Media, Oxford: Blackwell.  N. Davies, 2008, Flat Earth News, London: Chatto & Windus  Stuart Hall, ‘The Whites of Their Eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media’ in Paul Marris and Sue Thornham (eds.) 1997, Media Studies: A Reader, Dundee: Edinburgh University Press  S. Hall, C. Critcher, Jefferson, Clarke, Roberts, 1978, Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, Law and Order,  D. Hallin, 1986, The Uncensored War: The Media and Vietnam, Oxford: Oxford University Press.  Justin Lewis, Andrew Williams and Bob Franklin, 2008, ‘Four Rumours and an Explanation: A political economic account of journalists’ changing newsgathering and reporting practices’ in Journalism Practice, Vol 2, No 1, pp 25-45.  M. Leapman, 1992, Treacherous Estate, London: Hodder & Stoughton.  R. K. Manoff and M. Shudson (eds.), 1986, Reading the News, New York: Pantheon.  J. Palmer, 1998, ‘News production: news values’ in A. Briggs and P. Cobley, The Media: An Introduction, Harlow: Longman.  R. McChesney, 2001, ‘Global Media, Neoliberalism, and Imperialism’ at http://www.monthlyreview.org/301rwm.htm  P. Schlesinger, 1987, Putting Reality Together 2nd edition, London: Methuen.  L. V. Sigal, 1973, Reporters and Officials, Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath.  M. Shudson, 1991, ‘The sociology of news production revisited’ in J. Curran and M. Gurevitch (eds.), Mass Media and Society, Arnold: London.  G. Tuchman, 1978, Making News, New York: Free Press. 38
  • See also: Race and ideology in news Stuart Hall, ‘The Whites of Their Eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media’ in Paul Marris and Sue Thornham (eds.) 1997, Media Studies: A Reader, Dundee: Edinburgh University Press Corporate media ownership Robert McChesney, 2001, ‘Global Media, Neoliberalism, and Imperialism’ at http://www.monthlyreview.org/301rwm.htm 39