Is it all smoke and mirrors? VICTORIA HULSE explores whether the news can ever be a window on the world

Objectivity, transparency and neutrality or subjectivity, opacity and bias? Which set of words would you associate with the news? If it was the latter you are not alone. How could the news ever be the former when 71% of the national newspaper market is owned by just three companies (Media Reform Coalition, 2015) making the choice of events to report on and the political/social stance to take, very limited. So how neutral can the news really be? Is there ever such a thing as reporting the facts?

It is argued that “[t]he news does not simply reflect the world as if it were a mirror as journalists often claim […] the news does not simply construct a picture of the real either” (Matheson, 2005, p.15). Richardson (2007, p. 10) suggests that news reports are constructed based on their expected audience and because of this it “recreates these social and sometimes institutional expectations – expectations that we all have when we pick up a newspaper”. It is apparent that these expectations directly affect the “newsworthiness” of events and therefore the reporting of them. Harcup and O’Neill (2001) argued that “the news needs to be interesting or appealing to the target audience” (as cited in Richardson, 2007, p.91) and therefore, the content will be manipulated. Therefore, it seems impossible to be completely impartial when reporting events and through the drive to sell newspapers, it appears that the truth of the event may become distorted to fit the ideologies or events that sell.

An example of this distortion can be seen through the ideology of news reports. Ideology can be defined as “a systematic scheme of ideas, usually relating to politics, economics or society and forming the basis of action or policy” (OED online, 20/04/2017). Therefore, ideologies are often present in news reports to reinforce an idea or belief that the newspaper wants people to adopt. For example, the EU referendum provided a binary choice, which meant newspapers that were primarily Eurosceptic produced anti-European reports which disseminated the ideology that Britain is better out of the European Union, whereas newspapers that favoured remaining in the European Union produced pro-European reports. So which is it? Were we factually better off in leaving the European Union or remaining?

Well it seems that your opinion will be formed depending on the newspaper you read due to the variance in reporting. This is apparent on the two front covers of different newspapers the day after the result was announced. The Daily Mirror took a negative stance in its reporting with the headline ‘so what the hell happens now?’ and a picture of David Cameron and his wife looking uncertain. The Daily Express however, took a more positive stance with a headline such as ‘historic day for Britain’ and displaying a picture of the Chelsea Pensioners potentially showing pride. Therefore, if two people read either of the newspapers they may develop completely different ideologies about the same event and therefore it is arguable that the news does not just simply report an event, it offers the reader a viewpoint to read with.

To conclude, it is difficult for the news to ever be a completely unbiased and neutral source of information and there will always be the possibility that the reports will have an agenda or ideology they want to implement. Even if news outlets aim to be neutral, there is still an overreaching element of subjectivity in their reporting even if this is unintentional. It is also important to consider perspectives. What one person may view as positive, another may view as negative and therefore is it possible that we as the audience influence how we view the world. On the other hand, there are organisations such as the BBC that attempt to remain unbiased and therefore it is possible certain news outlets can be or at least attempt to be a true representation of events. However, news values contribute to the distortion of reality dependent on their deemed ‘newsworthiness’, therefore, what is reported and the stance taken is primarily motivated by the audience. Therefore, can the news ever really be a window on the world?

VICTORIA HULSE, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Matheson, D. (2005). Media discourses. McGraw-Hill Education (UK).

Media reform coalition. (2015). Corbyn’s first week: Negative Agenda Setting in the Press. 

Richardson, J. E. (2007). Analysing newspapers. An approach from critical discourse analysis. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Daily Mirror Cover (2016) What the hell happens now?

 

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One thought on “Is it all smoke and mirrors? VICTORIA HULSE explores whether the news can ever be a window on the world

  1. Sunny says:

    This is a really interesting and well-researched post which considers a variety of reasons as to why the media cannot be viewed as unbiased.
    I think you are right to have this opinion because it would be very difficult to deliver news of an event without some influence on the language based on personal opinions, especially since the majority of the national newspaper market is owned by so few companies and therefore has very limited perspectives. It is true that stories are often sensationalised or reported in a certain way to attract more readers and also to put across a newspaper’s ideology.
    I was interested in your example about the EU referendum because the newspapers should have delivered the facts including the pros and cons of Brexit so that the reader could make an objective decision regarding their vote, however, as you pointed out they each had strong opinions for or against without simply delivering the facts.
    Do you think that it is necessary to have an unbiased media or that it is more important for news stories to be newsworthy so that they will continue to be circulated? Also, could it be seen as a positive thing that they are biased as this means they present the reader with challenging perspectives and opinions or is it unfair for them to do so as a lot of people will believe these opinions without questioning their ulterior motives?
    Finally, you claim that the way that the news stories are represented is motivated by the audience, however the newspapers also have an ideology which influences the reader into thinking these things in the first place so is it an endless cycle?

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