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We live in an integrated society where various elements color our view and understanding of what goes on around us. Social sciences provide us with tools for better understanding and relating in contemporary society. A good understanding of the foundation from which the social issues spring leads to better perception as well as judgment when dealing with the contemporary issues in real life.
One of the social issues that affects and influences almost every aspect of our lives is the media. The influence that the media wields in our lives is very significant. Gentz and Kramer articulate that the media provides the backdrop against which we make sense of any new conditions and information that we encounter in a world that is increasingly becoming globalized (32).
Ideally, the media is expected to be fair, unbiased; and without prejudices and should deliver whatever news and stories that are of value both to the public and the ones concerned. However, these ideals are not always lived up to and there are numerous instances where the media has been accused of favoritism in reporting events.
This paper shall argue that the media is indeed guilty of favoritism in its news reporting and coverage of events. To buttress this assertion, this paper shall review how the media covers disasters in different regions as well as media representation of political affairs.
Favoritism in Media Reports
Perhaps one of the incidents in which the media has shown outright bias is in the report of terror events. In post 9/11 America, terror and terrorist attacks have gained prominence on a previously unprecedented scale.
Incidents of terror plots or terror acts have therefore become very newsworthy and a lot of report efforts have been dedicated to the same. However, Moeller notes that the terror events that occur within American soil are given immense coverage regardless of their scale while those that occur in other nations are given little coverage and indeed covered in a sporadic manner (174).
Considering the fact that some of this terror attacks are of unimaginable proportions and affect thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people, this treatment by the media is unjustified. To counter this claim, it might be argued that terror incidents that do not directly affect American citizens are not of much importance to them. While this may be true, media houses which claim to be international should not discriminate since they are supposedly addressing a global audience.
The commercial incentive for media houses to concentrate on some incidents and not others is very obvious. Considering the fact that the biggest share of viewers is in America, it makes sense for the media to try and obtain the view-ship of this group. Van Belle reveals that commercial imperatives factor in on the decision of whether a disaster is newsworthy (50).
For example, in the coverage of Hurricane Katrina, Moeller reveals that cable television networks CNN and Fox, both of which had invested heavily in the coverage of the disaster by sending scores of staffers both experienced significant rises in viewers (183). CNN recorded a 336% increase in its viewership while MBNBC recorded a 379 increase. While it might be argued that the media has a right to try and ensure that they remain profitable, this should only be secondary to sound and unbiased media coverage.
Media favoritism is not limited to disasters but also extends to other faucets of life such as politics. Barker and Lawrence reveal that claims of media favoritism in American politics have been around for decades (4). This favoritism is especially evident between the media and particular candidates.
Barker and Lawrence accuse the media of “telling us what to think” especially in forums whereby journalists were welcome to express their opinions or critical observation on political events. The media reinforces attitudes and behaviors and as such, a reporter’s opinions and attitude will rub on the general population thus coloring their view of some events (Gentz and Kramer 36). This kind of bias is therefore likely to sway the opinion of the public and in effect, influence how they vote.
While the media is supposed to be an unbiased and objective reporter of information to the public, sometimes the media has vested interests in the manner in which they report. The media is at times used to propagate propaganda or indeed manipulate public opinion. Barker and Lawrence theorized that when reporting on incidences, the media is more inclined to major on the information that is more dramatic and catchy (7).
As such, a presidential candidate who is considered as a “rebel” might be given unmerited coverage just for the sake of sensationalism. In addition to this, talk radio has also been known to influence the outcome of elections by attacking certain candidates or praising others.
Defending the Media
While the media has been accused of favoritism when presenting information, sometimes there are incidents which are both newsworthy and the media just chooses the more significant one. Moeller demonstrates that in some instances, some disasters just have “the bad luck to occur at a moment when a more telegenic disaster was already capturing global attention” (173).
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The media professionals in charge of choosing which disaster is presented to the public therefore lack the means to give both disasters equal attention. As such, the media is not guilty of favoring one over the other but rather the timing results in one of the tragedy’s playing second fiddle to the other.
Moeller also demonstrates that it is difficult for the media to keep the public interested in long-running humanitarian crises such as the war in Darfur and Congo or the HIV/AIDS epidemic inasmuch as these events have and continue to claim millions of lives (180). For this reason, the media opts to cover more sensational disasters such as the tsunami which happen instantaneously and capture the imagination people.
In some instances, the technical and structural feasibility of news flow helps or impedes the media reporting efforts. As such, the media is neutral and it is the location factor that dictates whether there will be media coverage of events in that area. Van Belle theorizes that countries with well-developed communications infrastructure therefore gain more coverage than those that do not have any communications infrastructure or have badly developed ones (52).
It is therefore unreasonable to expect the media powerhouses to report incidents on the same level in the differing locations. If incidents of the same magnitude and newsworthiness occur in two respective regions; one with good communication lines and the other region possessing no communication infrastructure, the media will mostly likely lean on the place with good infrastructure.
As it would be, America has a superior communication infrastructure especially when compared to developing nations. For this reason, the media reports for American incidents can only be expected to be significantly more frequent and detailed that those from the developing nations.
It is logical for the media to report on those issues that will be deemed as relevant and of some interest by the viewers. The media should therefore not be blamed for focusing on the disasters that have some direct bearing to Americans such as the hurricane Katrina incident or the fate of US Marines in Iraq.
Should the media decide to ignore this conventional wisdom and report on issues that are alien to Americans and to which they cannot relate, the media will end up being irrelevant and people will end up switching to other news providing avenues to sate their informational needs.
The media tends to report social policy issues in a highly critical manner and fails to give the issue the attention they deserve. Instead, the media is more inclined to report on more sensational issues such as insecurity, disasters and scandals. This assertion holds true considering the reporting space that issues that are controversial in nature are awarded compared to the rather mundane issues of social policy. However, even when reporting on these sensational issues, the media does not do so in a balanced manner.
As far as disasters are concerned, defining what is an “important” disaster or crises is at best a very hard task since there are no set guidelines as to what makes up such a disaster. Despite this being the case, this paper has demonstrated that in most cases, the media is guilty of covering the disasters that it deems most likely to be watched by their audience.
This has some negative effect since international relief efforts by the government and non-governmental organization require justification before they can commence. Van Belle documents that the media is arguably the most valuable information source used to justify relief efforts to distant countries (50). As such, reports on disaster by the media correlate with the amount of aid that a disaster accrues.
The reality is that high death tolls or even unthinkable violence do not guarantee media attention. This reality has resulted in some disasters where international aid and goodwill which can only be brought by expanded media coverage not getting the coverage they need. This has resulted in continued suffering and misery by the victims.
In some cases, the suffering is unnecessary since it would have been alleviated if the public had been privy of what was going on. As such, the favoritism employed by the media in these instances is detrimental for the well being of the victims of the disasters.
Despite the many negative aspects of the media that this paper has dwelt on, there are many positive attributes that the media advances for the betterment of the society. It is through the advocacy of the media that the public get to know of people in need of our help. In times of disaster, the media appeals to the public’s altruism as it solicits for funds to aid those who had been adversely affected by the disaster. The media has also been known to publicize government corruption therefore leading to greater accountability and transparency by those in power.
This paper has argued that the media exhibits favoritism in its reporting. To reinforce this claim, this paper has discussed some instances where the media reports in a biased manner. It has been noted that incidents are not given the same amount of coverage in that journalists do at times express their own biased opinions.
It has also been documented that the actions of the media are not always driven by objectivity or public interest but the need for increased view-ship which translates to profits. This paper has also indicated that sometimes the favoritism in reporting is necessary so as to ensure that the viewers are given information that they deem as necessary. However, the media should purpose to report in a fair and unbiased manner so as to ensure its credibility and continued relevance to society.
Barker, David and Lawrence, Adam. Media favoritism in presidential primaries: reviving the direct effects model. 11 Mar, 2004. Web.
Gentz, Natascha and Kramer, Stefan. Globalization, Cultural Identities, and Media Representations. SUNY Press, 2006. Print.
Moeller, Susan D. “’Regarding the pain of others’. Media, bias and the coverage of international disasters”. 2006. Journal of International Affairs. Vol. 59, no. 2, 2006.
Van Belle, Douglas. “A New York Times and Network TV news coverage of foreign disasters: the significance of the insignificant variables”. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly. vol. 77, No. 1, 2000.