Distortion: the Media's Role in the Political Process
David versus Goliath. How can we help to amplify the voice of the underdog in a media empire?
The news media today does not just report the news but also represents the views of certain segments of society. The news media is not a place to absorb informed opinion, simply the news media is a place to absorb biased opinion.
".. increasingly seems to lack the principles of objective and impartial reporting. Instead, many major organizations seem to be taking one side of the political spectrum and at best provide relatively biased coverage or at worse act like virtual propaganda machines for a particular political party.":
Validate my world, please...
People are looking for stories that validate their sense of identity in their social group, and will search for stories that reflect their views. They will reject all others.
I'm an optimist and like to think that during an election, when the future is uncertain (about which social group will obtain control), there are opportunities to educate and inform.
However, often we see mainstream news agencies reporting like a muckraking magazine (for example Jacinda Arden on having children and doing the Prime Minister job). This is not news.
It's also insightful to compare and contrast the spread of bias of news agencies with regard to the US General Election 2016 and NZ General Election.
US: Fox News (Pro-Right)
NZ: NZ Herald (Pro-Right)
US: CNN (Pro-Left)
NZ: Stuff (Pro-Left)
For more information on news bias read this informative piece from the PEW Research Center - American's Attitudes About News Media.
However, what I want to bring attention to, is that amongst the 'media empires' (Fox, CNN) or 'mainstream sources' (TVNZ, News Works) are the niches - independent publications with small audience base trying to grow and exist in the social eco-system. Intelligent, informed and insightful - but underpowered.
Here is a wonderfully informative article by
The Conversation, promoting 'academic rigor, journalistic flair' on the new New Zealand Government:
This, then, will be a legacy government, one that represents a generational shift in thinking away from the priorities of the baby boomers towards the concerns of the millennials. The irony that such a thing has been brought about by a man on the other side of 70 won’t be lost on anyone.
The Huffington Post is also one such smaller niche news agency that has managed to float to the top of consciousness. With informative content repeated in this post:
"The aim of a free press is to continually scrutinize the government and provide people with accurate and impartial information so that they can act on it accordingly."
Diagnosing the problem with mainstream...
Establishment news companies (media empires or mainstream news organizations) have a significant leg up due to a larger inherited historical audience (when the world consisted of 3 TV channel options).
They are institutionalised with the pre-internet aware generation and have success from mining and seeding typical narratives:
- Crisis reporting
- Run-of-the-mill news
- Polarising agenda
- Demonizing a person or social group
Simply, establishment news media organizations are not acting in the best interests of a well-informed and educated society, but simply in the best interests of their financial bottom line. One typical output of this type of populist thinking is that all that matters in news reporting is 'ratings' or 'views'.
The result being that news reports are often distorted to a point that it causes more confusion than clarity to the general audience, for example, any Rush Limbaugh or Mike Hoskings splurge which demonizes the opponent. This distortion, is often so fanatical it treads towards 'entertainment'.
What is an effective remedy?
How can smaller niche news outlets can reach their audience in a time of biased disruption and entertainment news?
Is the answer to follow the lead of the Rush Limbaugh's and Mike Hoskings and push whatever barrow of stories to keep your audience hooked?
The dangers are highlighted below:
The danger in all of this is that it could distort the quality of information that people receive and that in turn could distort their decisions. If positive issues are reported in a negative manner then at least some voters will vote against them even if it is contrary to their own interests, and vice versa.
Or is there something than can be looked at with technology? Or with regulations and laws? I'm not advocating for government intervention or censorship (which is highly damaging as well) but simply some kind of tool to help the smaller niche players amplify their voice.