How to Detect Media Bias

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

In the quest for knowledge to make responsible and ethical decisions as citizens of a democratic nation, we strive fairness and facts. Although we idealize both, sometimes we get more or the other...but in most cases, neither.

Hunting for facts about what's really going on in the complexities of our nation [and the world] can be daunting. Not because it's hard to find the information, but because the news, and the practice of reporting/journalism, has become so heavily weighted in biased views of outspoken and dramatic personalities that there seems to be no 'truth' to any of it outside the particular philosophy or ideology of a given political party.



So what do engaged citizens do about this matter? -- We must make an effort to evaluate our sources and gage credibility, just as responsible and ethical journalists do.



Here are 10 questions you should ask when evaluating news that may contain a bias, and measures to take when a bias is discovered.



1. WHO are the sources? -- Be aware of the political perspective of the sources in a story. A general trend suggests that Progressive and public interest groups/voices are marginally underrepresented. Portraying issues fairly and accurately means that media organizations and news stories must account for a variety of sources. Otherwise they simply amplify the voices of those in power.



*Examine the number of government sources versus that of progressive and minority groups. Suggest to that mass media expand their source pool to give the story a more well rounded feel or opinion.



2. Is there a lack of diversity? -- What is the race to gender ratio at the news outlet compared to the audience? How many staff people are women, people of color, or openly gay or lesbian? In order to fairly represent communities, news organizations should have members of those 'minority' or diverse communities in their staff.



*It is essential that viewers who see a lack of diversity to demand that it be reflected in the organization.



3. From whose point of view is the news being reported? -- Are the issues in discussion including those who are affected by them? If a white male is talking about abortion, but makes no attempt to reference or include a female in the dialogue about it, there is clearly a misrepresentation of a credible source and a lacking in perspective.



*Demand that certain voices be heard by making your voice heard. If no one listens to those who should be included, advocate for their cause [without actually speaking for them].



4. Are there double standards? -- Does the media hold some people/groups to one standard while using a different standard for other people/groups? Double standards are heavily placed on women and minorities, and serve as a means of stereotyping, which is not only unfair, it's irresponsible journalism.



5. Do stereotypes skew coverage? -- Are certain groups being targeted that might enforce certain negative stereotypes while other groups in the same position go unnoticed because of their assumed socioeconomic status? In order to be fair on an issue, ALL sides and ALL groups should be examined in a story, not just the ones that 'make sense.'



*Work to try and educate people about the misconceptions involved in stereotypes, and how stereotypes characterize individuals/groups in negatively reinforcing ways.



6. What are the unchallenged assumptions? -- Sometimes the key point of a story is not stated outright, but it's implied. For example, coverage of rape trials will often focus on a woman's sexual history as though it calls her credibility into question and will assume that she was promiscuous, and therefor brought on the rape when in actuality, it could have been a completely random event.



*Challenge the assumption directly. If you address the assumption specifically, it will demonstrate the absurdity.



7. Is the language loaded? -- When the media uses loaded terminology, it often shapes public opinion in some dramatic (and in many cases, unfair) ways. Like when the media uses the right-wing buzzword "racial preference" to refer to affirmative action programs. By indicating 'racial' it brings attention to the fact that there is a hierarchal separation based on race.



*Show/articulate how the language used in certain cases gives people an inaccurate impression of the facts/news.



8. Is there a lack of context? -- Coverage of issues like "reverse discrimination" usually fail to focus on certain factors (like economic inequality and institutional racism) that empower prejudice.



*Work to provide the necessary context so that the idea is fully understood. This may require research, but ultimately it will help you to be more informed.



9. Do headlines match the story? -- In most cases, headlines aren't written by the reporters who write the articles. Most news hungry citizens just skim the big headlines, so misleading headlines have a significant impact on the reader's conception before they even read the article or news story.



10. Are stories on important issues featured prominently? -- Look at where the stories appear in print. Articles on widely viewed pages (the front pages and editorials) and lead stories have the greatest influence on public opinion.

If citizens hope to gather 'unbiased' news, they will most often have to filter through certain positions of ideals that can influence how that news is perceived. But if the public is made aware of potential bias, they can be prepared as to how to deal with them to become more accurately informed.

1 comments:

murdoc November 10, 2010 at 3:58 AM  

It seems as if some news stations are putting up smoke screens especially in my area! www.lynnaluvers.com

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