HISTORY OF MEDIA BIAS


It is not possible to be impartial or neutral without making judgments

 

 

No matter how intelligent, open minded, and logical you believe your opinion to be, there will always be other smart, impartial, and honest people who believe the exact opposite

 

 

Few occasions render a person more confident about their fairness and open-mindedness than when they describe Bias in others

 


The majority of news and documentary media are quite sure their reports are impartial and objective. Wikipedia has pride in their principle of neutrality and stresses that the content of their site be written from a neutral point-of-view. Academia is confident that any biases that creep into their work will be weeded out by consultations with experts, their well-founded procedures, and the peer review process. Many now think racism, sexism, and all the other “isms” and phobias can be clearly identified with fair reprisals handed out to offenders. Today, a lot of folk accept that impartiality in both the media and the public arena has been accomplished; and that it is only an intransigent and ignorant minority who fail to accept those facts.

 

So are we really living in a super-enlightened age, essentially free of ignorance, myth, and superstition? To address this question it is helpful to have some background about the history of public bias through the prism of the media. 

 

Until recent times the idea that bias could be avoided by the academic world was assumed to be in direct conflict with human nature. Virtually every philosophical thinker over the history of human civilization unreservedly accepted that it was impossible to attain total objectivity. Similarly, the idea that there was a fair and detached approach to interpret news events or documentary topics was considered to be absurd.

 

During the nineteenth century this deep-rooted suspicion of neutrality gave rise to newspapers (in both the US and the UK) that were openly and unashamedly biased - often towards the publisher’s interests. Near the end of that century newspaper editors realized they could substantively influence the voting behaviours of readers. And they argued this was for the benefit of citizens, as straightforward facts were said to be too difficult for the average person to fully grasp. Gradually the media assumed the role of adjudicators for the public interest. As there was a broad selection of newspapers cheaply and readily available, with each providing their own biases, or appealing to different interest groups, consumers could access the points-of-view that best suited their needs.

 

During this time newspapers also promoted the idea of investigative reporting. While biases dictated where and how the reporters would dig out their stories, a sense of balance was attained due to the broad spectrum of interests available for the public.

 

By the middle of the twentieth century - joined now by radio and television news and documentary programs - this accepted system began to change. Firstly, journalism transformed from a trade into a profession which required a university education. A little later these professionals shifted their perspective of the news from local, cultural, and national interests to international and multicultural perspectives. And at the same time their viewpoints converged with the beliefs of their university mentors; while the influence of individuals, religions, and businesses became secondary to the perspectives of academia. It was at this time reporters and columnists assumed the position of unbiased advocates for providing the solutions to the many challenges existing in the world. As the media could, to some degree present their opinions as unbiased facts, investigative reporting tended to diminish in importance.

 

The science media followed a similar path once it was introduced. Science reporters often lacked the time or technical knowledge to dig into stories so they did not critically evaluate the quality of the studies they covered. While today there are a few internet-based investigative science journalists, the science media essentially acts as a champion for the opinions, or biases, held in other parts of the media.

 

This history, if it is known at all, is now often regarded as one more example of the mistakes of the ignorant past and, as observed above, a good many people today are confident impartiality in the public arena has now been achieved; and accept that truth and fairness can be determined by unbiased, informed and caring leaders in academia and the media.

 

In contrast, the social sciences still support the traditional view: that people can never free themselves from bias. Quotations of leading scientists that support this are given on the page: Science of BiasOver a hundred different ways of being biased have been identified and characterized. 

 

It has been observed that many people cite specific media outlets that are biased. But this implies that others in the media are not noticeably biased. This is especially the case with many of today’s young and educated. This cohort does however possess some very positive characteristics: for example they are open-minded, passionate about solving the world’s problems, and they believe their ideas are important. In addition they mistrust non-conformists, have high expectations and seem to need approval of their peers. But these ideals do come at a price. Each of them has what can be called a “high bias potential”. The open-minded have the tendency to accept certain notions too readily, as compared to skeptics who probe for errors of fact, logic, or perspective. Passion in solving world issues brings with it emotions and powerful needs; and each conceal personal biases. Looking for approval, perhaps by the adoption of culturally acceptable ways of thinking, inhibits creative ideas and encourages the bias of Group-think.

 

We can conclude the idea that impartiality has been accomplished by the academic world is no different to the culturally agreed superstitions of the past. Just like other historical myths it is reassuring to believe there are educated and honest people who can dispense unbiased truths. Reality reveals that to be neutral and impartial one needs judgement; and human judgement will be biased. What the media actually imply when they claim neutrality is: our judgments are more judicious than your judgments. The question becomes: should you hand over the authority to others to adjudicate the legitimacy of your opinions and ideas? To do so is to give away your thoughts, your free speech and your freedom of expression. 

 


Few people are capable of expressing (…) opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment - most people are incapable of even forming such opinions

Albert Einstein – Theoretical Physicist

 

 

Bias is not the real  problem: It is the stubborn belief "other" people are biased while you, and those who agree with you, are not

 

 

We are all influenced by our biases: the big difference is some people are aware of this, while others are not