The Bias of Objectivity

There’s are good reasons to actively focus on marginalised voices and what doesn’t get reported by major media outlets. It has to do with the fact that ‘objectivity’, as defined and practiced by mainstream media, can actually be code for ‘the right bias’.

I’m not talking about this kind of bias, which is usually easy to spot, but rather the more insidious bias dictating what gets reported and who is allowed to speak.

We rarely hear much from Australia’s indigenous population despite the fact that many live in 3rd world conditions or suffer under severe paternalistic restrictions – facts that many would consider newsworthy. In a story about a market crash, we might hear analyses from differing schools of capitalism, but never from a libertarian marxist thinker.

Generally speaking, it’s not that individual journalists are pushing some kind of agenda. Rather, news is created within a system based on profit, and for newsmakers to seriously undermine that system would be suicidal.

This is most obvious in reporting on climate change, especially by The Australian. Man-made climate change, with potentially disastrous environmental implications, is as well established a scientific theory as evolution. But any effective response to this problem would likely have an adverse effect on currently existing capitalism. Hence the odd situation in which voices from the radical margins of science are given prominence by mainstream news outlets because they carry conservative policy implications.

A particularly amusing example is this article, from The Australian in November 2009. The views of a local man who doubts sea levels are rising and the views of climate change sceptics Bob Carter and Bill Kinnimoth are given 11 paragraphs near the top of the story, with only 5 paragraphs for the mainstream scientific view at the end. A very ‘balanced’ piece.

This kind of reporting on climate change from The Australian is not an isolated event. Over a seven-year period 80% of the paper’s reporting focused on discrediting climate science.

To get an idea of how striking this is, imagine if Leninists were given the same predominance in coverage of the economy. This kind of bias in media is widespread. At best it limits public discourse and at worst it is outright dangerous. But new voices are speaking up every day through social media and independent news sources like Crikey and New Matilda.

I want to be one of these voices too, so watch this space.

For a demolition of the notion of ‘objectivity’ in media, from an American (and undoubtedly ‘radical’) viewpoint, check out Chomsky:

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