This clearly shows how the media was used and how it contributed to getting people to vote Labour. A function of the media is to highlight issues that concern people. However, they also instigate and stir up hostility, making the news of greater significance to its audiences. Former Home Office minister David Blunkett’s attempt to introduce identity cards shows how the media constructs fear and insecurity; it is an easy way for the press to fight politicians and have its own war of words.
A particularly scandalous abuse of media power was evidenced when the ‘Daily Mirror’ brandished pictures purporting to be of Iraqi prisoners being tortured and mistreated by British soldiers. Subsequently, when it became known that these pictures were fake the paper’s editor, Piers Morgan, was obliged to resign. Such gross abuse can be dangerous on an international scale. This attempt to manipulate public opinions at any cost shows the lengths to which news journalism can go, regardless of the veracity. This is a clear example of how agenda based roles can have implications on fair, quality journalism.
Other than for the purpose of reporting events, news is used because it generates a massive income for the news industry and is a commercial asset. Since sales are high and competition between news groups tough, one of the easiest and most obvious ways to attract readership is by reporting on the lives of celebrities, politicians and the elite; their private lives and scandals are things which interest people. Journalists will go out of their way regardless of the journalist’s code of practice, to make a good story with a negative portrayal of these individuals. Arguably, the function of the press is to report, expose and reveal how the role models of society behave when they are not under watch.
An unfortunate example is again the case of David Blunkett, and the recent scandals regarding his private affair and the fast tracking of a visa application for his child’s nanny. This kind of news angers people who feel he has abused his power and feel unease regarding who’s running their government. The image of a responsible and a respectable MP is tarnished by the media, who label him a hypocrite, unfit to hold public office; after all, he is the very same person who wanted to minimise immigration numbers. Royal celebrity, Princess Diana’s much talked about love affair with Dodie Al Fayed, was viewed as morally wrong by the media.
She was rebuked constantly, because she had only recently divorced Charles and still had the duties of attending to her children’s needs. Immediately after her death, the press changed its tune, possibly because it saw an interesting new selling point: a caring, loving, beautiful and tragic Princess. The rumour of a link between her death and the Queen added greater suspense and sold millions of papers. This clearly shows the way the press uses important people to create and attract audiences. So news journalism is used as a business tool: revealing the truth is not as important as selling newspapers.
Often as audiences we are confronted with situations in which we become the critics; we question what we see and read, whether it’s in newspaper or broadcast. We notice that there are deliberate omissions of facts and biased interpretations. Often when a news column or live Television reports on a topic, the commentator makes arguments and then justifies them, without having a valid representative of the opposite side. We see this on television news talk shows, where the guest is specifically hand picked, maybe to support the ideologies and views of the presenters; the deliberate omission of an interviewee to present the other side of the argument indicates bias.
Often, if a second guest is invited, they are either insufficiently informed or have views not widely appreciated by their culture in general. These views could well be extreme and ignorant ideals not belonging to the culture the audience perceive them as representing. It could be argued that the producers wish to manipulate the audience’s opinion and promote their own ideologies, in which case the programme is highly biased. An executive has made a decision about whom to select; however, even if this is done on the basis of trying to be fair, the decision is still a subjective one.
The selection of news based on relevance and readers’ interests is a crucial point. News only becomes newsworthy when it has cultural significance or affects society. Relevance is relative: local issues such as a rapist on the run in your local area, deemed as a public threat, will be highly significant to people in the locality; but less significant nationally. Nationally something big, unexpected or rare deserves more attention.
Currently Iraq is significantly on the news agenda as being relevant. However, as the story becomes old, reader’s interest will wane; the big story will be viewed as less significant because it has become too old and dull; it will then only be worth reporting when there are new changes to it. Rare or unexpected newsworthy stories will include things such as the sudden death of Christopher Reid, a moon landing or the discovery of a prehistoric skeleton.
“It is the unexpected within the meaningful and the consonant that is brought to one’s attention and by ‘unexpected’ we simply mean essentially two things: unexpected and rare” (Gaultung and Ruge: 1973: p65). To conclude, there are numerous limitations to the extent objectivity can be achieved in journalism. Subjectivity will prevail, be it deliberate, through human error or subconscious. As this essay has demonstrated, total impartiality is impossible: we are guided, almost subconsciously, by our cultural and ethical values and interests.
Glasser, Theodore L (1992), Objectivity and news Bias, in Cohen, E D Editor Philosophical Issues in Journalism: Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kieran, Matthew (1998), Media Ethics: Objectivity, impartiality and good journalism: London and New York: Routledge, (Chapter 3).