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Media Bias and Public Opinion
It is often suggested that pure objectivity in media reportage is a myth. This view has become accepted as fact and is supported by the research and experience of objectivity in the sciences and other disciplines. Experiments in physics (Heisenberg) have lent credence to the idea that there is always a subjective component in any investigation and that true objectivity is more of a myth and ideal rather than actuality. This applies as well to any media news or report.
The proliferation and extent of the influence of the media on our lives has also been extended over the past few decades and there is almost no sector of our lives that is unaffected by modern media - from news to advertising to the Internet. This also leads to the inescapable conclusion that the media has a profound and ubiquitous influence on public opinion. The power and range of the media, as well as its perceived legitimacy, is such that it must inevitably influence and shape public opinion. Many critics of the media claim that this influence can be detrimental in that it can be biased to suit a certain influence group, government or political party. It is also true that certain media groups do have biases, which are filtered though in their media products and reports-with the potential of skewing public opinion and twisting the truth.
However, the issue of bias has many different perspectives and different viewpoints. For example, while intentional media bias is an obvious negative influence on the truth, there is a difference between unintentional bias in the media and intentional bias that is designed expressly to form and shape public opinion. This study will attempt to embrace some of these aspects and arguments, and present a balanced view of the issues that influence and determine media bias and the way in which it influences public opinion.
Allegations of media bias are rife and are found everywhere. This is to be expected when one bears in mind that absolute objective reporting and news gathering is an ideal that is rarely attained. It is even more so when it comes to the media and the numerous factors that complicate the issue of media bias and the way it affects public opinion. The following extract goes some way to expressing the conflicting and complex views about media bias.
All governments lie," said the 20th Century's most idealistic muckraker, I.F. Stone; but, he added, "they also reveal a great deal about themselves." For a long while he had been growing deaf and couldn't go to congressional hearings; so he took the time to carefully read the transcripts of everything that had been said -- and made discoveries that the regular Washington reporters, those who would follow the president around the rose garden taking notes or who got "scoops" by playing tennis with White House aides, never noticed. Robert Fisk, the great British correspondent who covers events in the Middle East, says in the film "War Reporters" that the only approach to covering a conflict is to presume, "They all lie." Believe no one. Go in without any preconceived views and dig, and listen to everyone. Then tell what you see and what you think. So I was not surprised that Fisk, author of Pity the Nation (1990), the classic account of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, was among the first to condemn the high toll of civilian casualties in the bombing and invasion of Afghanistan. Some would say that Stone and Fisk, who, when they dig, usually find something wrong, are "biased." They are "against the government."
(Raymond. S., 2002)
As can be discerned from the above extract, the issue of bias is fraught with contentions and varied points-of-view. On the other hand, the literature on this topic also stresses the crucial role of media in reporting correctly as democracy depends on a free press. "... It is the moral obligation of the news media to give us the information that guides our political decisions. If the news is distorted or incomplete, democracy will fail."
The many ways in which the media can influence public opinion on current world affairs is evident in media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are accusations and counter accusations about bias in the media from one or the other party in this ongoing conflict. For example, an article in the Jerusalem Post stated the following:
Have the media distorted recent Israeli-Palestinian clashes? Supporters of Israel believe the answer is an emphatic yes, but ADL's Abe Foxman has repeatedly declared news coverage of the crisis to be essentially sound and entirely free of bias. His assertions are not only at odds with widespread opinion, but with the data as well. While much of the reporting has been accurate and professional, all too often influential outlets have made serious factual errors, tilted stories with an unbalanced array of interviewees, omitted Israel's voice entirely and excluded vital information. (Levin. A., 2000)
It is quite easy to find other reports from legitimate and respected sources that refute the contentions of bias in the above quotation. The following report is from the University Wire: "Israeli anthropologist Tania Forte and Palestinian-born Illinois State University history professor Issam Nassar spoke about biased media coverage on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East
" (Quinones, A. 2002)
Many researchers and scholars are of the opinion that bias is an endemic and unavoidable part of the news gathering and reportage process. "All media is biased and no media tells us all we need to know to understand why things are happening... due to stereotypes, television viewers usually see only two sides and hardly ever see dissidence among either side." (ibid)
The British media habitually apply a double standard when judging the Israelis and Palestinians. Behind the spurious defense of merely seeking justice for the Palestinians, most of the relevant sections of the BBC, Independent, Guardian, Evening Standard and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are rabidly anti-Israel." (What is bias?) There are also reports of media groups that are accused on intentionally creating bias in an effort to sway public opinion. The Stanford Daily reported that,
Stanford University is among 18 universities targeted for "anti-Israel bias" by a watchdog organization that many academia perceive as a threat to freedom of expression. The stated goal of the new organization, Campus Watch, is "to improve Middle Eastern studies in North America" by targeting "anti-Israel and anti-American bias" in academia. "Stanford students are getting a very poor interpretation of the Middle East - an extremist viewpoint that doesn't tolerate other viewpoints... Stanford students should be concerned," said Campus Watch founder Daniel Pipes.
(Petrone. J., 2002)
Another way in which the media creates negative perceptions and influences public opinion is through racial bias in reportage. Racial prejudice is a common accusation brought against the media as critics accuse the media of preferring to report on racial minorities when it comes to crime. This refers to a form of bias that may enter reportage, which is not due to erroneous reportage, but rather to selective reporting, presenting a skewed perception of racial, influencing public views.
This belief is fed by a daily bombardment of stories in the paper and on radio and TV about black crime and other failings, along with a perception that the media do not give whites or even other racial minorities the same scrutiny. Indeed, there is a common lament among African-Americans that we are the only people where "99% of the population is judged by one percent of its people." It is simply intellectually dishonest for journalists in particular not to concede a relationship between the media's almost obsessive focus on the perceived pathologies of black life and the creation of some very mean-spirited public policy, based largely on distortions of the African-American reality. (Coleman W., 2003)
This form of bias can be created by "the fact that racial minorities are so severely underrepresented in the media, comprising only 12% of newsroom employees while making up 30% of the population." (ibid) With the increase and proliferation of media into every sector and area of our technologized lives, the question of media bias has become an issue that has become paramount in correctly understanding and interpreting the world around us. While the most extreme form of media bias in shaping public opinion is propaganda, the most infamous use of the media influencing public opinion was no doubt the way in which the Nazis influenced the German public. However, there are many instances in the contemporary world where media bias, which tends towards propaganda, is prevalent. The political manipulation of pubic onion is known as propaganda. An example of the way in which the media can influence public perception through suggesting a sense of legitimacy is through polling and a constant stream of subjective media reports. The method of influencing the public is termed self-fulfilling polling.
A reference to the way in which the media can make…[continue]
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