Shaping the publics’ opinions

Shaping the publics’ opinions

“All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarise that society, we can brutalise it, or we can help lift it onto a higher level”  William Bernbach

In all likelihood, most of us have heard or read about media bias, but what can we consider a bias? What media bias is more specifically? How does media bias affect our thinking and shape our opinions? What is a bias? In general, that is the tendency to lean towards or against someone or something. The direction in which you lean can be influenced by factors such as your background, culture and personal experiences. There can be explicit bias, something you’re aware of and implicit or unconscious bias, something you don’t realise you have.

A bias is a judgment or prejudice not necessarily correspondent to reality, developed through the interpretation of the information people have, even if sometimes they are not logically connected. Biases are linked to how our brain collects and handles information and can lead to evaluation errors and loss of objectivity. We can consider bias as a strong preconceived opinion or ideas about someone or something that can be favourable or unfavourable and can affect understanding and outcomes.

Unconscious bias like this would probably be the result of stereotypes and societal norms made up during our lives and people act on them unconsciously. Biases lead to typecasting and categorising people or groups. Even if it might be difficult, the first step to tackling them is to fully recognise them. Media bias affects the selection of events and stories that get published, the perspective from which they’re written, and the language was chosen to spread them. Media bias is the bias of journalists and news producers in the selection of events and stories that are reported, and how they are covered.

Media bias can lean to the right or left wing of politics, but, in some countries can become propaganda, when completely reflect the ideals of the governing body. That is the case of dictatorship or a controversial government. We also have media bias when a misleading judgment spread so much through space and time that become part of the shared culture. Medis usually contain explicit bias and intentionally try to paint a certain image of an event, group or individual to achieve their desired outcome. This outcome may be politically fuelled, or it could just be an attempt to make more money. Media bias can shape public opinion.

Political bias has been a feature of the mass media since its birth following the invention of the printing press, serving the interests of powerful social groups. Like newspapers, the broadcast media (radio and television) have been used as a mechanism for propaganda from their earliest days, and now, the concentration of media in private hands, and frequently among a comparatively small number of individuals, has also led to accusations of media bias.

According to AllSides, a media outlet that provides media bias ratings, balanced news and diverse perspectives, there are 12 types of media bias:

  1. Spin: when journalists put a certain spin on a story that dramatizes it or places it out of context, usually with dramatic or sensationalist language;
  2. Unsubstantiated Claims: statements that appear to be fact, but do not include specific evidence, are a key indicator of this type of media bias;
  3. Opinion Statements Presented as Facts: this occurs when journalists suggest that subjective statements are factual, or present their opinions, assumptions or beliefs as objective;
  4. Sensationalism: a tactic often used by tabloid journalists, sensationalism is when information is presented in a shocking or over-dramatic way and makes a deep impression;
  5. Mudslinging/Ad Hominem: This is a type of media bias where unfair or insulting things are said about someone to damage their reputation. It presents attacks on a person’s motive or character traits instead of the content of their argument or idea;
  6. Mind Reading: journalists sometimes write assumptions about what members of the public or individuals are thinking;
  7. Slant: when journalists tell only part of a story, or when they highlight, focus on, or play up one particular angle or piece of information;
  8. Flawed Logic: this is when journalists arrive at conclusions that are not justified by any of their previous points or any evidence, in an attempt to misrepresent the facts;
  9. Bias by omission: when media outlets choose not to cover certain stories, omit information that would support an alternative viewpoint, or omit voices and perspectives on the other side;
  10. Omission of source attribution: when a journalist does not back up their claims by a link to the source of that information;
  11. Bias by Story Choice and Placement: is when a media outlet’s bias is revealed by which stories the outlet chooses to cover or to omit even through the placement, for example, if a story is put on the front page or a small paragraph at the back;
  12. Subjective Qualifying Adjectives: when journalists use qualifying adjectives, they suggest a way for you to think about, instead of just giving you the facts and making judgements for yourself.

Although sometimes it is difficult to recognise bias, according to the US media watch group FAIR, there are some questions we can ask ourselves when consuming media to detect biases, like, for example:

  • Who are the sources?
  • Is there a lack of diversity?
  • From whose point of view is the media reported?
  • Are double standards present?
  • Is there a lack of context?
  • Is the language loaded?
  • Do the headlines and stories match?

Unbiased news does not exist, and bias is not necessarily a bad thing, but hidden media bias misleads, manipulates and divides people, and that is why it is important to be aware and try to discern biases.

Giudi Aligi 

References:

Future Learn, Understanding media bias (2021)

https://www.futurelearn.com/info/blog/understanding-media-bias-how-credible-are-your-sources

Mediabias, Massimiliano Pennone (2017)

https://mediabias.it/cos%C3%A8-mediabias-fc6034348863

Open Education Sociology Dictionary, Bias

https://sociologydictionary.org/bias/

Lumen, Boundless political sciences

https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-politicalscience/chapter/media-bias/

FAIR (Fair & Accuracy In Reporting)

https://fair.org/take-action-now/media-activism-kit/how-to-detect-bias-in-news-media/

AllSides, Julie Mastrine (2018)

https://www.allsides.com/media-bias/how-to-spot-types-of-media-bias

 

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