Can the news ever provide a neutral window on the world or does discourse act as a blind? ALICE GRIX has a peek through the curtains

Eckstrom (2002) defines ‘news’ as “reliable, neutral and current factual information that is important and valuable for citizens in democracy”. On the 24th February 2017, The Sun newspaper’s front page read “DYER SEXTED ME PIC OF HIS ENDER”, referencing Danny Dyer’s questionable choices, drawing attention to the question of whether or not ‘news’ is in fact important and valuable. Do you remember ‘#Hameron’ going viral? Yes, the pig and the ex-Prime Minister. The writer of that story, only hours after it hit our screens and papers, revealed she had no evidence to support the shocking story, definitely questioning news’ “reliable” and “factual” description.

A man featuring on many of our front pages and screens recently, is President Trump. A photo of him and the Mexican president took pride of place on the Wall Street Journal front page on 1st September 2016. Some copies featured the headline “Trump Softens His Tone” and others, “Trump Talks Tough on Wall”, two very different headlines on the same day, with the same photo (snopes.com, 2016). Misleading? Very. This occurred during his election campaign and had the ability to influence votes. It’s hard to say that this newspaper edition is a window on the world when one window is looking out onto sunny landscape, and the other is looking out onto a storm.

Reah (2002) says language is “perhaps most powerful when its role in presenting the world to an audience is not explicit” and further suggests it is “easy to resist a particular viewpoint or ideology when you know it is being presented to you” (p. 54). Scary, right? Baker et al (2008) found that in the British press between 1996-2005, newspapers commonly referred to refugees and asylum seekers using water metaphors such as a ‘flood’ or and ‘pouring’, both of which construct an idea of an undesirable, natural disaster. This is a dangerous ideology to present to the public, especially when we aren’t aware of its influence, and lacks the objectivity we expect from news discourse.

‘Post-truth’ is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief” (Oxford Dictionaries, 2017). The term suggests that society now prefers emotion over fact, and that is what gains popularity and reaches us. Its selection as word of the year last year is understandable given the era of Donald Trump and Brexit, and the turmoil that followed the campaigns. How could we forget the ‘LEAVE’ campaign’s big bus that suggested we send £350m each week to the NHS? Just hours after our decision to leave the EU was announced, Nigel Farage relinquished such ideas. This point, alongside the #Hameron fiasco and the Wall Street Journal’s alternating headlines, support the argument that the news we receive is not an effective window on the world.

A development that has arguably presented a window to the world is the news app. Amongst other news outlets, BBC news send notifications to our phones, and even Twitter, a social media platform, has followed suit. Facebook now allow us to filter our profile pictures with supportive images for world events, which is how I personally have discovered news. Neetzan Zimmerman said in 2014 (cited by Viner, K. 2016), that “[t]he only thing that really matters is whether people click on it… [f]acts are over… if a person is not sharing a news story, it is, at its core, not news”. Zimmerman proves that social media has become a news outlet in its own right. However, access to these sites, and in many cases, what can be said on them, is not restricted, which is why it can be questioned whether or not it is a true window on the world. In one respect, the speed at which news reaches may substantiate that view, however the content of that which we receive and the lack of restriction around it may provide a very different perspective.

Social media sites are increasingly aware of this fact, which has led Facebook in recent weeks to launch a guide on how to spot fake news. This won’t stop what is out there, but it may prevent untruths spreading so quickly as social media allows. Therefore, it may be believed that developments in technology are acting as a window on the world, however the view we see has often been selected by others as being news-worthy. Additionally, the supposed ‘factual’ newspapers present us with hidden ideologies and rumours they cannot prove are true. This doesn’t mean that everything we read or click on is false, but how sure are you that what you read is fact?

ALICE GRIX, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Baker, P., Gabrielatos, C., Khosravinik, M., Krzyżanowski, M., McEnery, T., & Wodak, R. (2008). A useful methodological synergy? Combining critical discourse analysis and corpus linguistics to examine discourses of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK press. Discourse & Society19(3), 273-306.

Eckstrom, M. (2002). Epistomologies of TV journalism: a theoretical framework. Journalism, 3(3), 259-282.

Evon, D. (2016, September 2). Same Paper, Different Story. Snopes. 

Oxford Dictionaries. (2017) Oxford University Press. 

Reah, D. (2002). The language of newspapers. Abingdon: Routledge

Viner, K. (2016, July 12). How Technology Disrupted the Truth. The Guardian.