Term Paper: Media Bias and Public Opinion

Pages: 10 (3160 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Communication - Journalism  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] Such reporting is nothing more than propaganda." (POLLAGANDA - Manipulating Public Opinion, 1998.) This has, the authors suggest, produced a new term - Pollaganda - which is defined as follows:

Media polling is used to manipulate public opinion and advance a particular bias. This is primarily accomplished by television networks, on which most people rely for daily news. (Those who rely on print media for information are less likely to be subjected to extreme bias and more inclined to discriminate between balanced and biased reporting.)

And

POLLAGANDIZE: to engage in pollaganda. (1) The systematic propagation of television media polls to manipulate public opinion by firstly saturating a viewer with "reporting," which reflects a doctrinal bias; secondly, designing and conducting public opinion surveys that reflect that bias; and thirdly, further proselytizing viewers by treating media poll results as "news." (2) Using pollaganda to induce "bandwagon psychology" (the human tendency to aspire to the side perceived to be in the majority), thus driving public opinion toward an original media bias.

Advertising is one of the ways in which the media can have a profound influence on public opinion. Advertising has achieved the status of a carefully crafted art form. However, whereas its subtly and creativity is sometimes to be admired, its "message" can have a negative effect on individuals and society due to selected bias. This is certainly the case when it comes to promoting images in the media - for example, Anorexia Nervosa and other eating disorders have been directly related to visuals that promote idealized images of the human body.

The influences of the media as a factor in the increase in eating disorders among young women have become an increasing problem throughput the world. Many professionals and researchers place a large part of the blame of this increase on the influence of the media and advertising in the Information Age. The media have created a cultural bias, termed the "culture of thinness," which is promoted by media images. For example, since the 1950's there has been a significant increase in very thin models in media advertisements.

Gagnard (1986) reported a significant increase in thin models in popular magazine advertisements from 1950 to 1984, with a high of 46% reached in the latter year... this ratio exactly matches that of females with eating disorders. (Harrison, 1997)

However, it should also be made clear that not all media elements are intentionally biased. In news reportage there is a mitigating factor in that the reports depend on their sources; these sources may be biased without the knowledge of the news reporter.

Analysis

The literature presents a vast array of examples of the possibilities of media propaganda or distortion of the truth through intended or unintended bias. The fact is that, in an age inundated with media products, the onus lies with the viewer or perceiver of the media to be aware of the possibilities of bias. One can no longer rely on the news or on television to "tell the truth" without questioning what you see or read. Conrad Black CEO of Hollinger International and publisher of The Spectator states that "we can't just 'read' the newspaper. Be discerning and become part of the process. Otherwise, you're just a passive object of someone else's agenda. As Mark Twain once said, "If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed."

What is bias?)

If we analyze the different ways in which the media can bias and influence public opinion, then we can abstract a number of methods common in the creation of this bias. One way that bias can be introduced to reportage is through misleading definitions and terminology. This is defined as "... using terminology and definitions in a way that implies accepted fact; the media injects bias under the guise of objectivity." (ibid) An example given from the same article is as follows:

In March 2001, two separate acts of terrorism occurred a few days apart, providing the opportunity to compare the media's selective use of terminology. The BBC's article on an IRA car bomb in London carries the headline "BBC bomb prompts terror warning," and the word "terror" (or its derivatives) is used 5 other times in the article. The IRA alerted police ahead of time, and one man was slightly injured in the blast. But after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed three Israeli civilians (without prior warning) in Netanya, the BBC purposely avoided the label "terrorist," and instead used the far milder term "militants." (ibid)

Another way of influencing public opinion is though disguising opinions as news. This can be achieved through the use of loaded language and well portioned adverb or adjectives.

An objective reporter should not use adjectives or adverbs, unless they are part of a quotation. Also, the source for any facts and opinions should be clear from the report, or alternatively it should be stated that that source is intentionally undisclosed." (ibid)

An example of this form of bias is as follows:

On February 7, 2001, "The Early Show" co-host Bryant Gumbel interviewed former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross about what Ariel Sharon's election victory meant for the peace process. Gumbel abdicated his role of objective journalist by repeatedly asking Ross leading questions, loaded with venomous descriptions of Sharon. Gumbel said: "But does he [Arafat] even have a chance with Sharon, when many objective observers view him as -- as not only a racist, but also as a terrorist, a murderous war criminal?

A form of bias through selective content is "failing to provide proper context and full background information [in this way] journalists can dramatically distort the true picture." (ibid) An example of this would be a media image that depicts two Palestinians, hands tied behind their backs and kneeling on the ground. Standing over them is an Israeli soldier with a rifle pointed at their heads." (ibid) Without providing any context, the picture presents and suggest various facts that might not be the 'truth' and which leads the viewer to certain assumptions. Another version of selective bias is "selective omission," which also creates the environment for bias through manipulation and omission of facts to distort the truth. "By choosing to report certain events over others, the media controls access to information and manipulates public sentiment." (ibid)

There are many other methods that can be abstracted from the various forms of bias in the media. Using true facts to draw false conclusions is another method where media is guilty of bias. (ibid) Another more obvious method of bias is the distortion of facts. However, there may be reasons for the distortion of facts in news reports which are not intentional. "In today's competitive media world, reporters frequently do not have the time, inclination or resources to properly verify information before submitting a story for publication." (ibid) This also relates to a central issue that influences news and media reportage, namely the reliability of sources.

The problem of journalistic objectivity, of course, is a particularly difficult one. While journalists may seek to exclude their own feelings or opinions from a story, they are dependent upon sources - which usually have such opinions - in developing and presenting the story. Journalists, in most reporting contexts, finesse this problem through the convention of story balance. This practice may often mean purposefully seeking out biased sources to present one side's view and the other side's view. (Buddenbaum, J. 1999)

In general the pubic has become more wary of media presentations of the truth. They are more suspicious and tend to question the veracity of media reports. This is evidenced by polls that consistently show declining public trust in the media. "This has many causes, some not easily remedied. But one is the perception of bias and the feeling that the press often violates its own professed standards of behavior." (Samuelson, R.J. 2001)

In spite of this the pervasive influence of the media is everywhere and is a crucial determining factor in forming and shaping public opinion. The manipulation of the media, such as television, particularly with regard to important subjects such as political elections, is a disturbing factor.

According to a 1997 national survey by Global Strategy Group Inc. On media choices, 64% of Americans get their news from television, while 27% get it from newspapers. So, if the issues don't make it to the airwaves and newsstands, 91% of Americans remain uninformed unless they resort to Web sites. Some say media providers are filtering out informative advertisements just when these issues become controversial during an election year. "The media is doing the American public a disservice by only showing one side of the story," said Julie Neils, spokeswoman for Focus on the Family.

(Eubanks, D.

Warnings such as those outlined above should be borne in mind when evaluating the impact the media has on influencing public opinion.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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