First of all, it's important to understand what we define as bias. Bias can either be a preference or an inclination, especially one that inhibits impartial judgment or an unfair act or policy stemming from prejudice.1 In other terms: subjective judgement given on a subject without considering another point of view. Media bias, therefore, refers to the bias of journalists or news producers within the mass media, in their selection of which events and stories are reported, and how they are covered. According to the standards of journalism, media bias should be avoided at any time when reporting anything in the mass media. Mass media have the power to spread awareness, but at the same time they can clutter the opinion of the public by using persuasive and emotive language. Seeing as it is practically impossible to cover everything that happens, some media bias is unavoidable, as a selection has to be made to decide which stories are covered and which stories are not. Ofcourse, another important factor to media bias is who the journalist that covers a story is. Every person as his or her own preferences and usually, a journalist will have an opinion on the story he or she covers. Although journalists should attempt to be objective at all times, it is impossible for a human being to be entirely objective in everything he or she does.
One of the contributing factors for media bias is the fact that there is an enormous amount of concentration of media ownership in many european countries, including the United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom, four of the best-read newspapers - News of the world, The Sun, The Times and the Sunday Times - are owned by multi-billionaire Keith Rupert Murdoch2, who therefore has incredible influence in the way important news is brought to the public. People often read more than one newspaper in order to be informed from multiple points of view - atleast, that's what they're expecting. However, all of these newspapers are owned by the same person and portray the same opinions, often by the same journalists. People are expecting to gain a broad understanding of subjects by reading multiple newspapers while in fact they're being manipulated without even knowing it. Another good example of concentration of mass media ownership are the United States, where one corporation - Clear Channel Communications3 - owns over a thousand radio stations. The same market structure exists for newspapers and television broadcasting. Therefore, diversity is diminished within these mass media. Other countries where media bias is a large issue include Australia, Canada, Mexico and Ireland. The Netherlands can't be left out of consideration either.
There are many different forms of bias, but there are a few of them that stand out. The following types of bias occur most, and therefore have the most influence on public opinion.
- Political bias, including bias in favor of or against a particular political party, candidate, or policy.
- Advertising bias, corporate media depends on advertising revenue for funding. This relationship promotes a bias to please the advertisers.
- Corporate bias, coverage of political campaigns in such a way as to favor or oppose corporate interests, and the reporting of issues to favor the interests of the owners of the news media or its advertisers. Some critics view the financing of news outlets through advertising as an inherent cause of bias.
- Mainstream bias, a tendency to report what everyone else is reporting, and to gather news from a relatively small number of easily available sources.
- Religious bias, including bias in which one religious or nonreligious viewpoint is given preference over others.
- Sensationalism, bias in favor of the exceptional over the ordinary, giving the impression that rare events, such as airplane crashes, are more common than common events, such as automobile crashes.
On top of that, there's bias for or against a group based on race, gender, age, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation or other facts that can set groups of people apart.
In 2003, a study was done by Richard Alan Nelson. It was called "Tracking propaganda to the source: Tools for analyzing media bias." Nelson came to the conclusion that when media bias occurs, it usually stems from a combination of ten factors:
- The media are neither objective nor completely honest in their portrayal of important issues. This means the media add an own opinion to the stories they cover.
- Framing devices are employed in stories by featuring some angles and downplaying others. Once again, this is a method that can be used to manipulate public opinion. One aspect of a story can simply be ignored while another aspect is magnified.
- The news is a product not only of deliberate manipulation, but of the ideological and economic conditions under which the media operate.
- While appearing independent, the news media are institutions that are controlled or heavily influenced by government and business interests experienced with manufacturing of consent/consensus.
- Reporters' sources frequently dominate the flow of information as a way of furthering their own overt and hidden agendas. In particular, the heavy reliance on political officials and other-government related experts occurs through a preferential sourcing selection process which excludes dissident voices.
- Journalists widely accept the faulty premise that the government's collective intentions are benevolent, despite occasional mistakes.
- The regular use of the word "we" by journalists in referring to their government's actions implies nationalistic complicity with those policies.
- There is an absence of historical context and contemporary comparisons in reportage which would make news more meaningful.
- The failure to provide follow up assessment is further evidence of a pack journalism mentality that at the conclusion of a "feeding frenzy" wants to move on to other stories.
- Citizens must avoid self-censorship by reading divergent sources and maintaining a critical perspective on the media in order to make informed choices and participate effectively in the public policy process. Ofcourse, this is made a lot harder because many newspapers and other mass media are owned by the same small group of people.