Can the public discern media bias?
I’m surprised when I hear intelligent people express offence whenever someone suggests that “the public” might be unable to determine whether what they read in the media is the truth or whether the media is leaving out important facts and giving a deliberately biased account of the story.
I’m never quite sure whether these intelligent media commentators are genuinely offended or whether they’re just pretending offence in order to remain consistent with their ideological beliefs about free speech and libertarianism.
Surely, there isn’t a person alive that would suggest that 100% of the public are good at identifying biased media stories, is there? Certainly no sane person is going to argue that most people with IQ’s in the bottom 10% of the population are good at identifying biased media stories, are they?
So instead of acting offended and dismissing the issue out of hand why not be honest and admit that there are a certain percentage of people that will be very good at identifying media bias and untruth, and a certain percent that will be very bad at it, and that the rest of “the public” will fall somewhere in the middle, along a bell distribution curve. Surely, this proposition is indisputable!
I wish these “freedom of the press” spruikers would get real and start trying to figure out what percentage of people regularly have some difficulty identifying media bias, instead of pretending that we’re all superstars at it!
And what about the people who have difficulty identifying media bias and untruth? Don’t we care about them? Don’t they have any rights? What if there are fraudsters and con men in the media, who are out to dupe these people? Doesn’t a compassionate society have a duty of care to protect these people from the worst excesses of such con men?
And if we tried to reign in these deceitful manipulators wouldn’t they mount their high horses and proclaim themselves the champions of free speech? Wouldn’t they accuse those trying to reign them in of being a danger to our democracy and of our whole way of life? Wouldn’t they accuse this enemy of totalitarianism?
Ironically, these deceitful manipulators would spin the line that their enemy was outwardly saying that ensuring media accountability would give the public greater access to the truth, but that in reality it would lead to less access to truth for the public.
Notice, though that these media barons and champions of free speech never guarantee that their media output is completely truthful and free from bias. They just spin the old line that “the public is smart enough to know the difference” – so essentially its “buyer beware”.
I find this argument to be so ingenuous – its like saying that everybody’s smart enough to not be influenced by advertising even though, every year, billions of dollars are spent on advertising precisely because advertising does influence people.
What’s more, we all know that advertising is biased, and yet, to some extent, we’re still unable to stop ourselves from being influenced by it.
How much harder is it for us to stop ourselves from being influenced by news media – when, to a large degree, we assume that the media is telling us the truth in an unbiased way?
To argue that most of the time, most people can see through media bias and prevent themselves from being influenced by it is just ludicrous!
Now let me dismantle this deceitful argument from a different angle.
How am I, as a member of the public, supposed to be able to identify whether a particular media story is truthful, biased, or has left out some important facts? To do that I would have to know what the real truth is so that I could compare the media story to the real truth, right?
Unfortunately none of us are born with an internal fountain of truth that we can tap into. So the best we can do is to compare how a different media source reported the same story, right?
Does that mean that these champions of free speech expect us to buy two newspapers every day? So we can read two accounts of each story?
And even if I did, would that be any guarantee? What if both media sources have the same bias? Or what if they have different biases and they told two different versions of the same story? Which one would be the truth?
On how many different media sources do we have to cross reference a story before we can be relatively confident that we have the truth?
Is this really what these self-proclaimed champions of the free speech status quo think that members of the public are doing with their spare time? Cross checking facts in diverse media sources? Is this the flimsy pillar that their righteous argument rests upon?
Billionaires influencing government
Is this the insurance policy that will protect our society and prevent wealthy media barons and their billionaire mining magnate shareholders from deceiving an important slice of the population?
The awful fact is that they don’t even need to deceive a majority of the population. Elections are only won by a few percentage points, so if these deceitful manipulators can deceive just 2 or 3 percent of the population, that’ll usually be sufficient to ensure the outcome of an election is favorable to them, or at least that certain government policies will be dropped.
Therefore in order for the righteous champions of the status quo to argue that the current system is benign to democracy and our society, they must demonstrate that the percentage of the population that is influenced by biased, untruthful or deceitful reporting is much less than 2 or 3 percent.
They haven’t got a snowball’s chance in hell of proving that!
Their whole argument rests upon the non-existent pillar that the average member of the public is busy cross-checking facts across diverse media sources!
The solution proposed by Finkelstein inquiry may not be perfect but it is surely deceitful to suggest that total freedom of the press is perfect, and can not be improved upon!