The news is generally viewed by the public as a “window on the world”, but when put under scrutiny this does not appear to be so. The idea of the news being a “window” is that the audience looks through unaided. “A window on the world” suggests that the audience is looking on the world, but many news bulletins mainly focus on national news, as this is what the target audience is perceived to be interested in.
However, stations try to convince the public that this statement is true and that their news is authoritative and reliable. A lot of money and effort is put into this by having things like banks of monitors in the background and stakeouts, which aren’t necessary to the information being given. Stakeouts simply make the bulletin look like they are informed and involved in the action. They also have many different correspondents, particularly the BBC, for different topics.
News is important to channels. The BBC is a Public Service Broadcaster and wants to be seen as a voice of the nation. This it sees as being its identity. Commercial channels such as ITV want to please advertisers. They want to be able to guarantee a large target audience to attract potential advertisers. The news does this. The BBC also needs to justify the license fee and show that their programmes are of a high standard. In events such as the death of Princess Diana the BBC wanted to be able to say that the nation watched their coverage as opposed to that of another channel. To prove they are providing what the nation wants and so to justify that they are a public service broadcaster. If this is all to be achieved then the stations need to provide news that will attract audiences and this often means giving biased reports. Reports that are biased often provoke emotion, which audiences like.
So is it possible to say that news gives “a window on the world”? It seems not. It can be said that news is authoritative and reliable – there is no distortion of the facts but it cannot be said that it provides a window. Opinions are reflected in the news and emotive words are used whilst reporting. When reporting on Ford’s halt of production in Dagenham Huw Edwards, in his introduction, stated that there was “more trouble for the car industry” which is an interpretation of the situation and not necessary to the report. They also used black and white pictures of the factory to create feelings of nostalgia. It was unnecessary and did not contribute to the story. There were clear victims and villains, which is not unbiased.
A “window” is an unedited image but what we see on the news is edited for the viewer. Obviously it would not be possible to merely show unedited footage due to time constraints and some parts may be unsuitable for viewing. It has to be summarised unlike a newspaper, which can give lengthy extended articles.
It is also not always easy and safe to get some footage. During the war in Kosovo journalists got their information from Jamie Shea who is a NATO spokesperson. So it was already edited before it reached the news station. This will not provide a “window on the world” if it is given from NATO’s point of view.
During this time BBC correspondent John Simpson broke this method. During the NATO aerial bombardment of Kosovo and Serbia he interviewed some Serbian civilians in Belgrade who said the campaign wouldn’t work. It was told as he saw it and was closer to being “a window on the world”. The BBC was accused by Tony Blair of being unpatriotic.
War reports that are perceived as unpatriotic are not popular. Control was tightened in the 1970s after the USA’s war with Vietnam. An emotive image of a badly burnt Vietnamese girl was published in the USA and caused extreme anti-war feelings. Control has since been tightened in many countries. An early example of this was Ian McDonald, the MOD spokesman during the Falklands War. He was the only source of heavily censored information for the world media. So it will not have been a “window” but the British authority’s view of the world. People want to be able to support their country and reports of successes satisfy this as well as sympathy for their own side. If news on warfare is being controlled in this way it is unlikely to be a “a window on the world”.
In order to seem authoritative and trustworthy a news programme is constructed. Newscasters whom the audience trust and can identify with are used. The layout of the studio, music, graphics, extensive use of correspondents, accessed voices, emotive language, style of presentation and stakeouts are all manipulated to make the programme seem this way. They also manipulate the way a story is told.
Scheduling also affects content. As different bulletins have different target audiences the content is different. In comparing the BBC six and nine o’ clock bulletins it was found that the earlier prioritised soft, human interest stories over harder news. By showing different attitudes to different stories at different times this shows that it is not a “window” but the news station’s opinion.
Different groups have researched news and conflicting conclusions have been found. The Glasgow Media Group conducted extensive research looking particularly into industrial relations. They concluded that strike coverage is biased against the workers, portraying them as bad and disruptive. They also showed that those in power affect how a news story is reported. In the case of the 1984-5 miner’s strike they found that coverage focused mainly on two issues. Those who had given up the strike and were returning to work and violence between strikers, police and non-strikers.
This view was, however, challenged by Hetherington in 1988. He concluded that news coverage of the miner’s strike was generally unbiased and fair. Any inaccuracies would be due to insufficient time to distinguish between fact and opinion. It was stated that reports were mostly fair as news broadcasters are generally in the ‘middle’ of social and political ground like the majority of the population.
Given that this is being disputed shows there is an issue and the Glasgow Media Group, in particular, deny that news gives “a window on the world”. I agree with this view and given that the news is constructed to gain audiences it does not provide a “window” but more of it’s own view of the world.