In a world full of political opposition and deceit from those with power, can the news ever be trusted to be objective? With every writer and journalist, perhaps unknowingly, inflicting their opinion on every article they write, objectivity seems unlikely.
Conboy (2007) states that the “concept of objectivity is… structured through particular language devices such as the esteem and reliability of resources” (p. 13). However, despite this intention, the vocabulary employed to narrate the story can itself be very selective in what it chooses to be important to the story and what it chooses not to be important (Conboy, 2007, p. 13).
For instance, the coverage of the death of the Star Wars actor Carrie Fisher – a story that is seemingly very two-dimensional, as to put it bluntly, someone has died. Taking two UK national papers, let’s see how language can be used to foreground aspects of her life that the others don’t.
Starting with the Daily Mail (2016, 28 December), their opening headline is “DEATH OF A HOLLYWOOD PRINCESS”. The article does not state her name, nor her age, the cause of death or the place of death. Instead the use of the “Hollywood Princess” lays importance on her fictional status rather than who she really was. In contrast to this, The Guardian’s headline states “Carrie Fisher dies at 60: actor and acclaimed writer best known as Princess Leia”. This headline portrays the same message; however, it also highlights the importance of her age, her achievements and also her most renowned role in film. Thus, neither can be seen as objective as even the headline of a newspaper article can show such differences in the same story. As the papers have focused on different aspects of her life, it shows a clear difference in the values of the newspapers.
The news values by which the newspapers align often relate to the audience’s interests, and the audiences interest in the paper tend to be related to the papers political stance. The Guardian, which has nearly 150,000 readers per day (Newsworks, 2018) identifies itself with liberalism, the average reader also aligns itself with centralist/left-leaning political views, and thus a middle-class audience. In contrast to this, The Daily Mail has well over a million readers per day (Newsworks, 2018) and holds strong right-wing views. Thus, as they have such contrasting audiences, the stories that they write and the way in which they write them is bound to be different.
Furthermore, as The Daily Mail article had a simple headline, referring to a “Hollywood”, where the rich and famous live, it shows that one of their main values, as by Bednarek & Caple (2012) is eliteness. In contrast to this, The Guardian states the age and achievements of Carrie Fisher, which could suggest a value of personalisation, wanting to show closeness to the deceased and aspects of her life.
Therefore, due to the papers having different political standings and both adopting different news values, can the news ever really be objective? A news platform that does pride itself on being neutral and un-biased is the BBC. Owned by the public, it states that “[i]mpartiality lies at the heart of public service and is the core of the BBC’s commitment to its audiences.” (BBC Editorial Guidelines, 2018). But Baker, Gabrielatos & McEnery (2013) dispute this, arguing that it is in fact impossible to write completely objectively (p.8). Even the BBC could contain biases within its reporting, shown through the choice of stories that it prioritises, the opinions it foregrounds in a particular article, as well as the choice of wording in the headline (Baker, Gabrielatos & McEnery, 2013, p. 8).
Despite objectivity coming a long way from the likes of the 18th & 19th century paper, who rarely disguised their political allegiance or their interests, objectivity within the news still has a long way to go (Conboy, 2007, p. 19). Richardson (2007) claims that the assumption that language is “neutral window to the world”, needs to be rejected, particularly within journalism as it can be dangerous (p. 13).
All in all, the likelihood of the news ever being neutral seems doubtful among linguists. The need for entertainment seems to be the basis for most of the leading newspapers in the UK. But is the fact that some individuals trust these platforms to be neutral and an objective source of news the most worrying part?
KIRSTY CRUIKSHANK, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK