Tuesday, November 22, 2011

News is Objective?

For long, I believed that since newspapers deliver news and not opinions, they are bound to be objective. Indeed this pervasive view- due to which many consider it a worthier source than biased opinion Editorials- gives them immense power in shaping masses thought processes. Media is more powerful than Government for it can report an allegation on the ruling party one day turning the tide against them, while next day scandalize the Opposition swaying it back in favor for the former. Alas, support for oneself is garnered more easily by ridiculing the opponent due to which choices are mostly an aversion towards one than an aversion for the other. But how is it possible for media to report for-or-against an issue using facts? After all, the subject must have committed the act to be reported. And how can facts be biased? Till a debate with Andri (fellow intern at ABB, on one of my long detours from work) where he pointed out on the possibility of media-bias (on an Indo- Pak debate where I ridiculed Pakistan based on local-media sources). Andri's allegation compelled me to observe the possibility, and finally after observing for long, I think I can explain few ways in which the bias successfully works.

So much happens in the world each day, such a huge spectrum of possible news, so many news-makers. If Aishwarya Bachhan's newborn can make headlines in the major publications (not just supplements), no wonder there is no dearth of news-makers. Even me writing this article can be news tomorrow (if I had the stature, or an influential person was writing rather than me). Thus there is a lot to choose from for the publishers.

An important point to be noted is everything has its pros-and-cons. Assume the publishing house be biased towards one of the views. All it needs to do is publish 'facts' on that side, ignoring those on the other side. For instance, reporting only on the pros of Indian growth story while not reporting (remember, not opining-even reporting) of a tragic story caused by it (similarly, reporting the cons of an issue while leaving the pros, before you allege to be pro-sad news). A common example (the subject of my debate with Andri) is news on Pakistan. Almost every news emanating from the nation is negative in our newspapers- bomb blasts, corporal punishments, SMS bans, Hindu-persecution. Not that these are false (though they can be at times) but consider India. If one wants to portray it as a God-obsessed Hindu-fanatic country in deep disarray, worse than Pakistan one can. Just go to a village where cows are worshipped, necromancy practised, girl-child killed, alcohol consumers punished and other ridiculous petty stuff, which we city-dwellers are aloof from. Reporting incidents from this village can make India seem disastrous if the article simply quotes 'in a village in India'. Moreover, there are these protest movements, corruption scandals- painting a sad scene for India. Experts can portray India as a stone-age country (maybe Pakistani media does that). Thus without deviation from facts, but simply applying the filter of 'facts' wisely the media can be successful towards reflecting its side of the view. Another example is China. A news was published where a businessman said "My only wish is to escape China". Out of the billion people, the view of an ordinary businessman (shaped as news) made the columns- wonder why? Similarly, there are stories about Putin being jeered at, portrayal as a dictator while lots of positive things keep happening in his life, celebrated by people in Russia.

Another powerful tool is Headlines. The recent viral pic on Facebook denoting different headings for the same news in The Hindu and TOI. The content can be seen both in the adjoining pic, as well as the link. Clearly the first thing a reader sees is the heading in bold. Some may ignore to read the details and thus only the view from the headline remains while for some it creates a confirmation bias while reading the article in alignment with the headline.

Another tool, not very visible is the use of adjectives. The brave, valiant Ratan Tata. The corrupt minister. Confused Kambli. These minor insertions set the tone and help in aligning the view with the writer without being explicitly opinionated. At times, advertisements are printed as news, with adjectives as per the advertise. Huge-scale event, successful results. Such was the case at one point when a 'news' article reported a particular coaching class delivering excellent results for JEE selection. If media can print such blatant advertisements as passive facts, can't they do the same with other news, with appropriate adjectives, expertise in journalism.

A question maybe raised on the assumption "assume the publishing house be biased towards one of the views" made earlier in the article. However with the power media has on the masses' opinions, the parties involved in the news very well know the effects a certain news would have. Moreover these people have a lot of clout as well as monetary backing to be supporting a publication thus ensuring their filter runs by filtering away their cons, while championing their pros.

The trigger behind this article is the news circulated by TOI today on "Anna Hazare tying alcoholics to a pole and beating them up". The timing of the article can be questioned, as this has been known to many since long and been said long ago by Anna, but it has been posted just before the start of the Winter Session of the Parliament, where the Lokpal issue is to be raised. Thus news we get is not objective, but biased. Possibly every publication has a view, and filters news according to it. To get the true side of stories (as true as common-men can get to the truth) maybe a resort can be increasing the sources of reading, before being opinionated on any issue.

PS. None of the examples used should be mistaken for my opinion on the topic.
On Pakistan issue, I am still embittered about the nation (reasons for which I may write some other day), and before rubbishing me as a Communist due to China, Putin etc. I would like to clarify I am left-leaning, don't support CPI(M), but have used these examples as they exemplify contemporary media's tone. Neither do these reflect any of views on Anna Hazare (although I do ridicule Aishwarya Rai's child making headlines).

2 comments:

vivek said...

good read

vivek said...

good read

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