Media bias
March 31, 2003 9:31 AM   Subscribe

Should news be independent The BBC stands accused (from some quarters) of being biased in its coverage of the Gulf war. Of course news reporting will always have a bias - but whose bias should it be?
posted by daveg (30 comments total)
 
In a time of war should we expect our news media to remain independent / objective, or do they have a responsibility to maintain morale?

Please don't let's descend into bickering about Iraq - do news gathering / distributing agencies have responsibilities beyond reporting the facts?
posted by daveg at 9:34 AM on March 31, 2003


It should be my bias.
posted by namespan at 9:36 AM on March 31, 2003




The news media in the US is beholden to one goal: higher ratings. The networks have been hyping the war for months, casting everything in terms of a "showdown with Saddam" or a "countdown in the Gulf." I think many Americans actually like being able to pick a "flavor" of news, from the sort of human-interest/support the troops/relatively dove-ish NBC to our friends at Fox News Channel...not that there's that much substantive difference. The cable channels are the worst, since they have nothing to do all day but stream reports from the "front" and interview talking heads. Even NPR's goal is to get you to listen longer and donate money, so they craft their coverage to their audience (NPR Brain Cramp Moment: hearing an "underwriter drop-in," i.e. advert, for the local FOX NEWS affiliate's 10 o'clock newscast while listening to All Things Considered! :-0). The *journalists* themselves have a responsibility to present facts (note that Peter Arnett got fired today for expressing an opinion)...the revenue-driven outlets through which that journalism is distributed are utterly corrupted of any sort of integrity, in my opinion, and would do anything to increase viewership regardless of objectivity, etc.
posted by serafinapekkala at 10:03 AM on March 31, 2003


It doesn't matter who's in power or what's being offered by the government. Any media outlet has the obligation to storm the gates and probe policies with all the venom of a proper muckraker. It doesn't matter if the policy is left-wing or right-wing. To do anything less than this is to surrender the freedom of the press and give away the voice of democracy to the status quo. To be as embedded as any piece of hard-line bullshit from one of Ari's press conference.

Even if the policies are as marvelous as the New Deal, the true journalistic litmus test involves shuffling the paper around more acidic compounds.

Case in point: Mencken on the New Deal: "The New Deal began, like the Salvation Army, by promising to save humanity. It ended, again like the Salvation Army, by running flop-houses and disturbing the peace."

I would give my left nut to have seen a Mencken debasing and savaging Clinton, Bush, Blair, Nader and the rest of the turds in the chicken soup bowl with rationale and utter clarity. But what do we have today? The atavistic Michael Savage replacing the veteran Phil Donahue on the talk-show rostrum. And endless jingoistic blowhards blowing the clarions of war as if it were a goddam Mach 3 commercial.
posted by ed at 10:08 AM on March 31, 2003


Here's a bit of blatant, rather foolishly expressed bit of bias (foolish in that it confirms all that the Islamic world suspects and fears of US intentions) : “One of the things that we don’t want to do is to destroy the infrastructure of Iraq because in a few days we’re going to own that country,” NBC’s Tom Brokaw explained on March 19, the opening night for “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
posted by troutfishing at 10:10 AM on March 31, 2003


does anyone know who controls CNN? i know its an AOL Time Warner company, but who controls it... CNN is a private company and is not subject to public disclosure requirements?

Anyone know how it is that CNN got the exclusive, Pentagon approved 'embedded journalists' gig???

from a Paranoid Canadian...
posted by fishtail at 10:12 AM on March 31, 2003


And he might have thought of tacking on some wee nod of concern for human life to that statement, such as “One of the things that we don’t want to do...besides kill Iraqi civilians....".

But human life doesn't seem to figure into Mr. Brokaw's Olympian perspective....Meanwhile, Peter Arnett's equally ill-considered blunder leads to his firing, while Brokaw suffered scarcely any criticism at all.
posted by troutfishing at 10:15 AM on March 31, 2003


The *journalists* themselves have a responsibility to present facts

In a perfect world that would be the goal. However, it seems (at least here in the USA), we're more concerned with what is *right* than what is *true*. And we seem less and less capable of a) discerning that they might be two different things and b) that understanding a complex issue sometimes requires more work on our part than going to the pre-processed McNewsstand
posted by ElvisJesus at 10:19 AM on March 31, 2003


CNN has been on the television during every shift at work since the war started. Most of the time, I feel like it is a long mini-series that just won't end. Overall, I would describe CNN's coverage as balanced: a little liberal bias from one segment of reporters, a little conservative bias from another segment.
posted by mischief at 10:28 AM on March 31, 2003


Journalists have a responsibility to tell the truth. Period. That might be limited in detail, such as the agreed-upon omission of locations of forces, plans, and other operational security details. But if they start cheerleading, they betray their role as representatives of the citizens back home.

The BBC is quite balanced, as far as modern news media go. They do better than most American television news, I think. That doesn't count the 24-hour cable operations, which are more raw speculation and ill-informed guesswork, running from the best (CNN) to Fox, which is truly cringeworthy (and draws by far the highest cable news ratings).
posted by sacre_bleu at 10:29 AM on March 31, 2003


have responsibilities beyond reporting the facts?
let me know when they begin fulfilling on this basic function. THEN we can talk additional responsibilities.
posted by quonsar at 10:42 AM on March 31, 2003


i'm not sure i agree with the overall project of creating "objective" news. the problem lies in what is "objective truth" and who is considered a "trusted source". these definitions are getting narrower and narrower.
posted by muppetboy at 10:47 AM on March 31, 2003


does anyone know who controls CNN? i know its an AOL Time Warner company, but who controls it... CNN is a private company and is not subject to public disclosure requirements?

No, AOL Tmie Warner is a publicly held company. If you look at their annual reports you can probably find out who's in charge of the CNN division. But of course the buck ultimately stops at the desk of AOLTW's CEO.
posted by kindall at 10:48 AM on March 31, 2003


The biggest problem with the BBC television coverage right now is that it soft-soaps the US-UK military restrictions. Rageh Omar gets introduced with 'his report is subject to restrictions and is monitored by the Iraqis'; while the BBC embeds get introduced with 'as you'll appreciate, s/he won't be able to tell us exactly where s/he is, or give details of military operations'. At least ITN and Sky News use exactly the same form of words for both sides. So, this report appears to a curious piece of passive-aggressive muckraking with very little substance, unless seen from the perspective of the propaganda-rich US networks.

Oh, and Andrew Sullivan, while fulminating and spitting out his dummy, ought to look at the scathing war reports in the Times, given that he writes for the Sunday sister paper.
posted by riviera at 10:59 AM on March 31, 2003


I just sent a message to the BBC via their website. I complained that they have a remit to show un-biased news; balanced reporting, but they don't.

They show sexy little segments on the cool machinery of war, and antiseptic images of destroyed vehicles and buildings: not a drop of blood in site; as dry as the desert they're fighting in.

You's almost think it was an exercise in the destruction of property, rather than the destruction of people.

The only people who get a look in are our "brave" soldiers, especially when they're wounded or dead. Every single one, an injured or deceased "hero."

And where is the balanced view of injured and dead Iraqis?

Al-Jazeera, that's where.

I pay my license fee, I believe in the BBC (motto "And Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation,") free of the vile conflicts of interest of corporate commercial media. I firmly believe in the absolute necessity of balanced reporting; of showing the FULL picture to the British (and other) peoples; ALL the dead; The British dead, the American dead, the Iraqi dead, the missiles fired by the Allies, the missiles fired by the Iraqis. The whole bloody lot (pun intended.)

It ain't happening, and it's the one thing the BBC NEEDS to do.

Sincerely,
posted by Blue Stone at 11:13 AM on March 31, 2003


The Truth. Most of the time. If the truth could directly hurt people -- say, real names of folks in the witness protection program -- maybe it's not a good idea. Or maybe the keys to haxorring the air traffic control system. Or William Gibson's thoughts:
Have you ever left anything out of a book for fear of the real-world implications? In Idoru, one of the characters had a memory of a terrorist event. It stayed in to the first galleys, but it seemed so workable and media-efficient an idea that I didn't feel like I could let it out.

What was the idea? I can't tell you that.
(see This interview, found via ftrain.com, which maybe should be an FPP...)

If the "truth" will directly lead to the deaths or severe injury of human beings, it's irresponsible to just let it out.

Now, then there's "morale." Or "respect for leadership." Whether or not the truth will hurt those things, I want it and want it cold. I wanted it under Clinton and Reagan and I want it under Bush. There's a difference between hurting a "concept" or "set of feelings" or "ideal" -- which is essentially what those who believe they're protecting morale or leadership are doing -- and the actual direct safety of human beings. In fact, I'd almost say those are at odds with each other. To the extent that human beings act without a full understanding of realities they come into play with, they are very likely to injure themselves or others, and the most humane institutions that society has to boot.
posted by namespan at 11:18 AM on March 31, 2003


I agree with namespan. AS for the FPP: The BBC stands accused (from some quarters) of being biased

Actually, they admit their potential bias in reporting. Now I'm not very familiar with the BBC (other than my personal thoughts when I read any of their articles) but a quick Google search for "BBC Bias" turned up a lot of articles that would make me think twice about them not being biased.

Blue Stone - And where is the balanced view of injured and dead Iraqis? Al-Jazeera, that's where

Huh? When Al Jazeera starts showing the dead bodies the Saddam's regime has exterminated and some people screaming as they go feet first into an industrial plastic shredder, then they'll be balanced.
posted by stormy at 11:23 AM on March 31, 2003


does anyone know who controls CNN? i know its an AOL Time Warner company, but who controls it... CNN is a private company and is not subject to public disclosure requirements?

No, AOL Tmie Warner is a publicly held company. If you look at their annual reports you can probably find out who's in charge of the CNN division. But of course the buck ultimately stops at the desk of AOLTW's CEO.


CNN, (Cable News Network LP, LLLP)(Delaware limited partnership not a corporation) is partially owned by Turner Broadcasting Systems, Inc. (Georgia company), which in turn is partially owned and controlled by the public company AOL Time Warner.

The question is, who is the limited partners of CNN - TBS Inc. is probably the general partner and is responsible for the management/operations of the business, but what is most interesting and elusive is the owners/investors who represent the limited liability partners of CNN.

If anyone can shed light on this it would be most helpful.
posted by fishtail at 11:28 AM on March 31, 2003


Al jazeera as a "balanced" news source or for balance to western media?

Al Jazeera's self described mission is to provide a counter point to western news coverage NOT to provide balanced and objective news reporting. It's actually one of the few news organizations with an acknowleged bias.

On a related note. When getting my BS in Radio and Televison I had to take many courses regarding Broadcast News. From these I've learned two things.

One, objectivity is impossible. Any journalist/news source that tells you they are completely objective is both naive and lying. It is not possible to be completely objective in reporting the news. Everything from the medium you report the news, the story's you choose to cover down to the words you use in reporting a story imparts bias.

Second, every news professional (from reporters to news directors) I've talked to will deny (and I believe themm you can choose not to) that those outside the news organization have very little influence on what stories are covered and how. And never would squash or edit a story based on some sort of business angle. One news director has in fact had sales people ask them to not cover a story regarding an ad client and laughed in his face.

Maybe I'm a bit overly optomistic but the journalists I've met all take their role in reporting the news seriously and do they best they can in covering all sides of a story.

Anyway if you want some sort of relatively impartial source for an Iraqi civilian death count try this
posted by bitdamaged at 11:45 AM on March 31, 2003


namespan: Why should anyone respect a leader that hasn't even bothered to respect the American people? Discount the "embedded" journalists and leave the coverage of the war to those out in the field. You still won't have the whole story. Ever hear of security clearances?

But you will have a better perspective of it. And it can be done without compromising national security. Just like it was done in Vietnam and Gulf War I.

It's one thing to be anonymous to protect the identity of a rape victim or a source terrified of seeing ramifications. It's another thing to burrow your nose in the ass of a cowboy.
posted by ed at 12:00 PM on March 31, 2003


ed: I'm not sure what about my post that you're taking issue with... I think we probably agree. My point wasn't to defend the current administration at all. Just to point out there are genuine situations in which the release of information could be a real problem... and make some speculation about where that line should be drawn. I think the current administration would like to draw that line at the wrong place -- anything that gives them an image problem. But the line should exist, and may even include things war-related, like embedded reporters revealing their location.
posted by namespan at 12:17 PM on March 31, 2003


The news networks wouldn't be able to get away with such shoddy work if the public weren't such mindless, short-attention spanned, gullible sheep.
posted by quirked at 12:34 PM on March 31, 2003


Is this anything new?
posted by Pollomacho at 2:02 PM on March 31, 2003


I don't know about BBC television, but the BBC World Service has always been, as far as I am concerned, the straightest news out there. Bar none. That opinion comes from almost twenty years of listening to the World Service, and comparing it all the while to the Voice of America, Radio Havana Cuba, Radio Canada International, Radio France International, the New York Times, the New York Post, the New York Daily News, Newsday, Chicago Tribune, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Liberation, Le Monde, Le Figaro, the St. Croix Avis, the Mexico Ledger, the dozens of other newspapers which have been my daily read over the years, and all the other media I read online irregularly.

The only way to get more balanced coverage than the BBC World Service is to consume no news at all.
posted by Mo Nickels at 3:30 PM on March 31, 2003


All media is subjective. All media caters to an audience. All media is influenced by social, political and economic forces. All media is emotional. Don't expect 'the truth'. Take in as many perspectives as you can and try to make up your own mind. Ask your own questions. I'll wager it won't be long before you come up with queries the mainstream media hasn't thought of or will not ask publicly.
posted by skinsuit at 3:54 PM on March 31, 2003


fishtail,

As I recall from a communications class I took years ago, CNN sold shares to each of the major cable television providers in the 80's. This way, they could make sure the cable providers would keep CNN in their channel line ups and hinder an upstart competitor from cutting into their marketshare. (Of course, once bandwidth grew to the level where you could broadcast hundreds of channels on cable, competitors eventually emerged. )

Perhaps some of these cable companies are still part owners of CNN?
posted by wrench at 4:52 PM on March 31, 2003


The question is, who is the limited partners of CNN - TBS Inc. is probably the general partner and is responsible for the management/operations of the business, but what is most interesting and elusive is the owners/investors who represent the limited liability partners of CNN.

does anyone know who controls CNN? i know its an AOL Time Warner company, but who controls it... CNN is a private company and is not subject to public disclosure requirements?

Anyone know how it is that CNN got the exclusive, Pentagon approved 'embedded journalists' gig???


fishtail, CNN is a division of Turner Broadcasting, which is a division of AOL Time Warner, which is a publicly held company. CNN is not a private company, and is indeed subject to public disclosure requirements (but it's AOLTW that's doing the disclosure, since they're the parent company...CNN infomation is available in their annual report (and presumably their 10K filings, but I've never personally looked at those.))

If you're looking for who controls CNN specifically, the current chairman of the CNN News Group is Walter Isaacson, who will be succeeded by Jim Walton in May. (It certainly feels like Walton has taken over in all but name, but that's just an opinion.) There are of course different managers who are in charge of news gathering, CNN/U.S., CNN.com, CNN International, Headline News, CNN Radio, individual bureaus, production, special programs, et cetera ad nauseam.

I'm don't know much about the "limited legal partnership" nature of the operation, but I'm fairly sure that's just a corporate organization thing -- to restate the above, CNN is a subsidiary of AOLTW, which is publicly held. Anyone can buy shares therein. CNN has lots of different legal entities for its various brands, offices, et cetera. (f'r instance, all the bureaus in the US are technically run by "CNN America, Inc." and the Atlanta HQ is technically run by "Cable News Network LP, LLLP", but it's all still the same CNN.)

And lots of other news organizations have journalists embedded with US and UK troops, including ABC, the New York Times, et cetera, et cetera.
posted by Vidiot at 6:52 PM on March 31, 2003


Now I'm not very familiar with the BBC (other than my personal thoughts when I read any of their articles) but a quick Google search for "BBC Bias" turned up a lot of articles that would make me think twice about them not being biased.

Then I'd kindly suggest you're not in a position to comment. The article you linked to quoted BBC staff saying that it was technically difficult to report the war accurately, not that the bias is deliberate.

The BBC is constantly being accused of bias because it's funded by public money and has a public service remit. These accusations are more damaging than they would be if directed at a privately owned corporation. People, including whichever government is in power, often take advantage of this.

Many BBC programmes, such as Newsnight, are clearly very sceptical of anything said by anyone in authority, for which I'm profoundly grateful.

The linked article seems to find it amazing that the BBC would interview Arab politicians, broadcast Iraqi propaganda or presume that footage of politicians going about everday activities in front of the cameras was staged for political purposes. I find it amazing the article finds it amazing.
posted by Summer at 2:26 AM on April 1, 2003


What BBC coverage I have seen (limited to Newsnight, Question Time and News bulletins) has offered a fairly antiseptic view of the war. Slightly less jingoistic than I have seen from Sky (Fox/NewsCorp), but still repeating the same buzzwords and focussing on the 'water cooler' issues decided by 'them'. I witnessed no real exploration of alternatives to war, prior to the official start of the operation, nor any debate where a anyone had a 'real' understanding of Iraq, it's history, it's people and their hopes. Maybe I am too demanding, but I don't think that the debate was controlled in this way due to the fact that there wasn't anybody who could offer alternatives to war, or because the subject is too complex to fit on the cathode ray tube (even with wide-screen). I think it was governmental information management, which contributes to the 'manufacture' of consent.
That is, after all, what the press office does.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2002/02/17/do1703.xml
http://www.bilderberg.org/censored.htm
http://www.psa.ac.uk/cps/1999/gaber.pdf
posted by asok at 8:49 AM on April 1, 2003


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