The role of British newspapers is to inform readers of issues of public interest. What makes the press vastly different to its broadcasting counterparts is that it is allowed to be biased. In fact, the press has very few rules to follow, restricted only by its own self-regulation. It is not censored; the press can basically say whatever it likes, within the law. This can create limitations of what the press can publish, and raises the question of what is considered public interest.
Newspapers today are characterised by an oligopoly1; Newspapers are now commercialised.
Today, a major role of journalists is to not only inform, but to sell newspapers. This has changed the nature of journalism, particularly in tabloids, into “info-tainment”. News has become sensationalised and “sexed up”. Therefore, although bias exists, it can be said it does not really conflict with the objectivity the readership expect of good journalism, simply because they realise what they read is accurate to an extent, and bias is merely there to sensationalise a story to make it more exciting.
This sensationalism is recognisable to an educated reader, when compared to coverage by broadcasters. This can, however, limit the press’s appeal to the reader, as they may become disillusioned by this “commercialised news”. Bias can, however, be said to be an integral part of good journalism. Indeed, many aspects of journalism require bias. Editorial and comment sections of the press are built on the opinions of the journalists who write them on particular issues eg, the Iraq War or Tony Blair.
Bias in the press is a double edged sword.
For the press itself, it seems that bias conflicts little with objectivity, as firstly, everything published has to be accurate to within the best of knowledge, meaning journalists cannot let their views affect the truth, and secondly, where bias does exist, it is usually desirable, and does not really affect objectivity. The Readership The readers of newspapers obviously expect objectivity to an extent, as they wish to be accurately informed about issues in the news: the reason they bought a newspaper. However, the inevitable bias that exists may not really conflict with the objectivity of good journalism.
This is because there is a political argument that the press do not lead their readership, but rather follow it. Newspapers may claim that they have great influence over their readers, but the truth is that the press carry out extensive research on their readership to find out what their stance on issues is, hence, journalism merely reinforces what readers already believe. This is evident by the political alignment of the press, eg. The Daily Mail readership is mainly Conservative voting, The Daily Mirror is mainly read by Labour voters.
This alignment obviously limits a newspaper’s readership, especially if they support the opposition of the time. Therefore, it can be said that readers may desire bias to reaffirm their views. They buy newspapers that share their political view point to reassure them that their views are correct. Of course the question of accuracy is there, as journalists are able to contort facts to support their opinions, but even if they do, it can be argued that readers merely “filter out” what they do not agree with, so that the bias of the press has little affect, other than to merely add interest and a human stance on an issue.
The political alignment of the press means that bias does not really conflict with objectivity for the reader, as a reader’s political allegiance usually matches that of the newspaper they buy. The Government and Opposition The Government and Opposition often has a varying relationship with the press. The press’s political alignment and support or lack thereof for the Government plays a vital role in politics in Britain: it can make a Government powerful, but just as quickly help bring about its downfall. Political bias is influential in both a positive and negative way.
During the 2005 election, newspapers such as The Sun may have attacked Blair and his Government over the Iraq War, branding him a “Liar”, but the same newspapers still showed them allegiance, supporting them rather than the opposition, ie. although Labour lost over sixty seats, they still won the election. There is also the issue of the aforementioned “info-tainment”. Newspapers are now not only concerned with the public profile of Government, but also the private lives of politicians, printing scathing attacks and exposi?? s on politicians, eg. Revelations about David Blunkett’s private life in 2005 forced him to resign from the cabinet.
However, in this instance, newspapers were being objective, telling the public the truth, bias merely affected it, with tabloids sensationalising the story to affect Labour’s image. To the Government and Opposition, the pros and cons of bias are most noticeable, with the Government both desiring and suffering from the effects of bias. Press support, especially during elections, is always desirable to a Government, even if the same press regularly attack it and its policies. Resolution It would be almost impossible to eliminate bias in the British press under current laws.
With no Government interference, apart from the Official Secrets Act and Libel and Defamation laws being the only laws censoring the press, the only resolution to bias conflicting with objectivity would be to change the law. Libel action can be taken against the press, but it is costly and time consuming. The Government could introduce legislation enforcing the same neutrality rules that broadcasters must abide by, on the press. With the press no longer politically allied or able to express opinion on issues, bias would mostly be eradicated. However, the limitation of this is that papers may become bland and lose their readership.
However, the current laws seem to be suitable, as they ensure that the press must not print defaming untruths or official secrets. Therefore, it seems the only resolution is to make sure that objectivity should always prevail as bias will always exist. 1011 Bibliography http://www. northallertoncoll. org. uk/media Success in Politics – Phillip McNaughton Bob Satchwell’s Leicester Mercury Lecture to the Leicestershire Literary and Philosophical Society February 15, 1999 1 An Oligopoly is a small group of powerful companies which controls a large market.
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