Friday 8 April 2011

Overt and Covert Bias within the media

I have analysed a week’s worth of political content in the Daily Express and I have studied both the overt and covert political biases within the newspaper. I have also undergone some research to help me understand the newspapers ideologies and the affect this has on its target audience.

Firstly I am going to look at the main strands of overt political bias within my paper. Overt bias is generally unhidden – some might say ‘obvious’ bias. The ‘Daily Express’ could be seen as a very right wing newspaper and may therefore, when writing political articles for example, include certain ideologies that their audience is familiar with. The general public often require their newspaper to report about politics in a way that is comprehensive, relatable and easy to understand. In general this is why readers stick to the same newspaper or format of receiving news, as some articles may be phrased in a way which makes it difficult to interpret, which leads to assumptions being made on the pivotal points of the said article.
On the 14th of April, the headline read ‘Tax and Pension Joy for Millions’ and in this article in particular the ratio from expert comments to hard news is reasonably balanced. An example of this ratio would be the short paragraph on the front of the paper, which continues on to the next page, then at the end of the article it emphasises an opinion page towards the back of the newspaper, showing which elements should be the readers’ priority. What is included in the article, for instance, certain wording and the use of selected quotes, often have other meanings of their own which can emphasise certain points. For example, this article mentions that Chancellor George Osborne said earlier this year that ‘his officials were studying the possibility of cancelling a 1p fuel duty rise in April’ but then goes on to say (also ending the article), ‘but he has refused to confirm his plans ahead of budget day’. How this article has ended could suggest overt bias as it seems the papers ‘wording’ suggests doubt in the chancellor’s decision.

In order to communicate, people will always come to their own conclusions about what has been presented to them. This was made more apparent because it was mentioned Mr. Osborne may cancel a 1p fuel rise, however when ending the article, stating that the chancellor would not confirm this could suggest that there is a chance that it may not happen at all. When the media print an article or inject any message into the public, people will draw two inferences: the language that has been used to tell the story and our knowledge about the world. The facts which we understand about the world could continually be consumed through this one paper – therefore certain ideologies could be adopted. Some mediums have stereotypical view points of the world; consequently the paper will only include what the public would normally expect in such circumstances.
What do we expect? Well within any political party most people will question what they are being told. With the coalition government and many officials not sticking to their word, it would be fair to make the assumption that people would reject Mr. Osborne’s ‘idea’.

Another controversial story of the week is about Health Secretary Andrew Lansley breaking his pledge. This story is situated on the fourth page of the newspaper and offers a great deal of both hard news and opinion; there are many quotes featured from health officials expressing their anger about where the money is coming from. Mr. Lansley pledged, before he came into power, to put £2 million into a new cancer drug fund. However after a letter from the NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh was found, explaining that £140 million of this was taken out of existing budgets within UK Primary Care Trust. Some of the ‘selected’ quotes here are quite obviously bias and completely negative towards Mr. Lansley. For example, a professor said “I feel ¬completely betrayed. This means other people will be suffering for cancer patients. This is not what we were led to believe” and another saying “So much for new money for cancer treatments when what he’s doing is ¬taking services away from other patients with long-term conditions. This is yet more evidence of David Cameron saying one thing on the NHS, and then doing another”. These are just two examples of the negative quotes throughout the story, there are no quotes included that balance the story, just quotes on the outrage of professionals and patients.

On the other hand, covert bias is bias that is less visible or less obvious. In many forms of media, especially newspapers, it would be appropriate to presume that they will rely on covert bias to inject ideologies, keeping the audiences with a certain viewpoint, without making it so obvious. However, having said that people will create different meanings from a single word, the message that arises may differ for each individual. In theory the concept of language as a tool of deciphering covert bias could be argued to be more blatant than first apparent, language is merely a tool and the meaning of the said word cannot be hidden as the meaning of the word lies alone in how it is used.
Could we say that there is such a thing as hidden meaning? Or is it the way we as an individual interpret what is there – making us assume there is a hidden meaning? Alternatively, what must be taken into consideration from this is that newspapers could find a quote and make maximum use of this in an article, which could help contribute to an idea they may have or have had for a long time. Often what they include and, equally important, what they don’t, can suggest hidden agendas resulting in covert bias. In the same week an article about students looking for work abroad, as there are ‘not enough prospects’ here in the UK. This suggests that with the other articles in the newspapers throughout the week, regarding the cutting of jobs and rises in other aspects of the economy, this could be down to the government and officials not sticking to pledges which is ‘forcing’ the public to turn to alternative means of employment. This article includes mainly hard news facts and plenty of statistics; the wording also seems quite negative and doesn’t offer unconventional opinions. For example, wording such as ‘lack’, ‘unemployment’ and ‘forcing people out’ are used throughout the article. There are no public or professional comments what so ever, unlike stated above were the newspaper emphasises an opinions page. It could be suggested that as newspapers tend to assume that the reader is somewhat aware of similar stories, they tend to exclude some information.
A trend that has developed over the course of the week shows that articles that include negative stories about the government seem to be less informative. On average the editorial piece contains 300-350 words, as stated above the story about Mr. Osborne cutting the 1p increase made the front page and was at least 600 words, including images. Sunday 20th March, ‘The Sunday Express’ paper included an article about the ‘potential’ MP’s pay freeze but at this stage it has only been planned and will be voted upon this Monday. The mere 150-200 words on this topic suggest that the newspaper is weary of making this a pivotal story as there is a chance that the validity of the article could become questionable. This could be seen as covert bias as the absence of information can be as imperative as the information that has been omitted.

To conclude, it is reasonable to argue that if a profound absence of information exists within any article, then that is just as relevant as the information that has been printed and unquestionably contributes to different degrees of bias. In regards to the details provided within the articles, it could be found that certain words or selected quotes often depict the meaning of the story, helping to contribute to the consumers’ ideas and viewpoints of what is being read.


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  2. Please make the text on the page more reader friendly :)

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