A recent Gallup poll in the United States revealed that while 62% of Democratic party voters trusted the media, only 14% of Republicans believed that the media could be relied on to get the facts straight.
Is there really bias in the news and public affairs media? Is the Pope Catholic? Is the Dalai Lama Buddhist? Are the Kardashians low-life trailer trash? (The answer to all of these questions is “Yes”.)
Not only can one not expect objectivity from newspaper and television news, but most of the bias is left-leaning. Though reporters ritually disavow any such tilt, it has been proven in study after study of the North American media. Right-wingers, especially social-conservatives, cannot expect to see their side of the issue fairly presented or, indeed presented at all. If you hold a dissenting view on gay marriage, climate change, gun control, or abortion, you will search both the newspapers and the electronic media in vain for spokesmen articulately arguing for your side of the debate.
This is particularly true for our national, tax-payer-funded media, despite the fact that the Canadian Broadcasting Act requires Radio-Canada and the CBC to “provide a reasonable opportunity for the public to be exposed to the expression of differing views on matters of public concern”. (Left-wing criticism of media bias is two-fold: these people think that broadcasters are not left-wing enough, and that Israeli policies get an easy ride.)
There are lots of reasons for this, but the chief one is that, overwhelmingly, reporters, editors, and producers identify themselves as being on the “progressive” side of politics. Many view their calling as not a way to describe the world, but as a way to change it in a particular direction. This means that the information which the public receives is often filtered through only one side of the political spectrum.
Bias in itself is not necessarily dangerous, if two other conditions exist. The first is that listeners and readers are aware that what they are being told comes with a particular political slant. Everyone knows that the Daily Worker speaks with a Marxist voice, and that FOX and Rebel News have a right-wing lean. The problem is that main-stream media purports to be centrist or objective when, in fact, it is a megaphone for various shades of leftism.
The second condition that could mitigate the effect of journalistic bias is diversity: if the public has a wide variety of voices to inform them, they would have a better chance of hearing diverse points of view. In the 19th and 20th centuries when Canadian cities had multiple newspapers, it didn’t matter that the Globe was a Liberal paper and the Empire was a Conservative one: Toronto readers had a choice which most subscribers do not now have. At the moment 80% of Canadian media is owned by only five corporations and in many markets the local newspaper, TV and radio stations are owned by the same company.
What is the solution?
The newspaper industry is in a death spiral, and we can’t expect to see the return of the Golden Age of competing broadsheets. A wholesale replacement of left-wing reporters, commentators, and producers isn’t going to happen, and expecting the government to regulate opinion diversity would produce a cure that is worse than the disease. The remedy lies in all of us becoming better consumers of information, seeking out alternative sources, and being willing to spend a little time winnowing the fake news from the real news.