Bias is a bastard of a topic because its like rust. It spreads everywhere. The most common form of bias is found in sport. The one eyed football supporter is so biased he/she can see no redeeming features about the opposition. Collingwood supporters in the AFL are acknowledged as the most feral variety. (Have I lost any friends?). Bias also occurs in advertising where we are seemingly told with open bias the merit of one product over another. Bias also inhabits the corporate world where it is used in reporting profit or in surveys where the outcome is slanted toward the corporation.Or even in polls where a certain outcome is beneficial to whoever commissioned it. Religion shows its bias when it will not allow certain practices in health, or excludes sex education in its schools. Then there is omission bias where vital information is deleted or purposely left out. and of course there is the bias of sensationalism where it is given precedence over the mundane which might be the more factual. Another is concision bias, a tendency to report views that can be summarised succinctly, crowding out more unconventional views that take time to explain. Then there is what I call social bias which favours or attacks a particular race,religion, gender, age,sexual orientation, ethnic group or even an individual. Science of course has a bias of fact before feeling.
Historically, bias has always existed. Here are a few examples of accusations over time. These I picked up from the internet. They make for interesting reading.
- In the United States, in 1798, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which prohibited newspapers from publishing “false, scandalous, or malicious writing” against the government, including any public opposition to any law or presidential act. This act was in effect until 1801.
- During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln accused newspapers in the border states of bias in favour of the Southern cause, and ordered many newspapers closed.
- Chancellor Adolf Hitler of Germany, in the years leading up to World War II, accused newspapers of Marxist bias, an accusation echoed by pro-German media in England and the United States.
- Politicians who favoured the United States entering World War II on the German side asserted that the international media were controlled by Jews, and that reports of German mistreatment of Jews were biased and without foundation. Hollywood was said to be a hotbed of Jewish bias, and films such as Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator were offered as proof.
- In the 1980s, the South African government accused newspapers of liberal bias and instituted government censorship. In 1989, the newspaper New Nation was closed by the government for three months for publishing anti-apartheid propaganda. Other newspapers were not closed, but were extensively censored. Some[who?] published the censored sections blacked out, to demonstrate the extent of government censorship.
- In the USA during the labour union movement and the civil rights movement, newspapers supporting liberal social reform were accused by conservative newspapers of communist bias. Film and television media were accused of bias in favour of mixing of the races, and many television programs with racially mixed casts, such as I Spy and Star Trek, were not aired on Southern stations.
- During the war between the United States and North Vietnam, Vice President Spiro Agnew accused newspapers of anti-American bias, and in a famous speech delivered in San Diego in 1970, called anti-war protesters “the nattering nabobs of negativism”.
So we have established that bias exists and it always will. It’s a human emotion. How do we describe it. There are many different dictionary definitions however I came up with my own:
“It is an opinion, that in the absence of objectivity, is prejudiced and unbalanced. Its foundation is untruth and therefore cannot be impartial”.
Specifically what I am interested in is political bias as it relates to truth, fact and free speech. An example of what I mean is Canada’s decision not to allow Fox News on its airwaves (most courageous I might add) on the basis that they are so biased they could not be trusted to tell the truth.So it raises the question. Is Fox News so biased that it cannot distinguish between the two? Then of course another question arises: Can you be biased and tell the truth at the same time? I think not because to be totality biased requires a degree of untruth and the elimination of facts..
Another example is “The Australian” newspaper. Sometimes called the official newsletter of the LNP. Why does it exist? It loses millions of dollars annually for an owner who has spent a lifetime in the pursuit of financial riches. There can only be one reason and that is to perpetuate its bias. And biased it is. Generally speaking newspapers report (or should report) both sides of an argument. Its bias will usually slant toward its own editorial bent. However, most will seek to achieve a reasonable balance in light of the weight of any given argument. With climate change it would be hard to argue that the weight should not come down on the side of science. Yet in his Quarterly Essay critique last year Australian academic Robert Manne read almost seven years worth of news and opinion articles in the Australian Newspaper and discovered that, of the 880 articles printed, just 180 were “favourable to climate change action and 700 unfavourable” – a four to one difference. On the newspapers opinion pages alone, the skeptics out-number the “consensus” 10 to one. Enough said. You be the judge.
Currently we are seeing overwhelming evidence of bias in the Australian media, and in a most aggressive manner. Fairfax in no uncertain terms has taken a sudden lurch to the right. Its sales are falling at an alarming rate and it seems they have decided that by being as shrill as their competitors it will in some way turn things around. The Melbourne Age (once considered to be one of the worlds finest broadsheets) has descended into nonsensical drivel. Its failure to aggressively report on the Slipper/Ashby case is tantamount to bias by omission. And its attack on the Prime Minister over the AWU affair when there was clearly no evidence to convict her was yet another example of its biased attitude. There was a time when If I didn’t get my daily dose of The Age, then somehow my day wouldn’t be complete. Now I take a cursory look online, but if they go behind a paywall I won’t bother. With Fairfax now firmly on the right and the other 70% owned by Murdoch the print bias it seems will continue unabated. What hope for democracy?
The ABC’s reporting of the resignations of two ministers together with the announcement of the election date shows that they too have deserted balance for bias. How else could one describe their bizarre reporting of these most ordinary events using the most sensationalist language. Added to this is the daily reporting of the imminent Rudd challenge. As fellow blogger Michael Taylor pointed out earlier this week when commenting on three articles by Gemma Jones for The Daily Telegraph. Quote “I would argue that the content, in most cases, is fabricated as are the sources and statements that the articles are built around”. Yet another example of biased misrepresentation or biased reporting.
It is common when reading comments on various blogs just how blatantly biased individuals really are. When discussing economics I am often amused at how the GFC seems to have never happened or that Wayne Swan is not correct about a ‘profits based’ tax. That you only acquire the tax when the profits are high. And people of the left leave out the fact that it does appear to have been badly constructed. And that Swan did promise a surplus a number of times. Surely we can all be truthful with each other. Yes it was wrong of him to do so, but at the same time give him credit for having the fortitude to correct his wrong for the common good.
Three further examples of how media bias can distort the facts. There is no doubt that the government has taken a pounding over:
- ‘Pink Batt’s. But the fact is that the much maligned pink bats program was not the disaster the opposition and the media made it out to be. Official records show that there were no fires in 99.98% of the million ceilings insulated. Two in ten thousand (224) had fires and just thirty had structural damage. This rate of fires was less than occurred prior to the HIP So that ironically the scheme in the long term has actually prevented house fires.
Tony Abbott stated, “No good government would ever spend more than a billion dollars putting pink batts into roofs and a billion dollars to take them out again”. This has been shown to be a lie. The cost of rectification of faulty insulation installation was nowhere near that figure. Around twenty percent of ceilings had inspections but only 4.2% had rectification works to make them safe.
- The Schools Rebuilding Program. It seems the schools building program was more successful than a biased media would have us believe. Three comprehensive reports from the BER Implementation Taskforce chaired by businessman Brad Orgill showed over 97% satisfaction with the program. The report said: “Overall, the Taskforce found that the majority of education authorities attained value for money and delivered quality education facilities. The Final Report notes that the program has touched every community in Australia, and has delivered substantial stimulus.” There was some overcharging, mostly in NSW where the rollout was fastest. There was some waste, but overall there was value for money, not billions of dollars wasted as the media and opposition asserted. The report said that the majority of those who had children at the schools where improvements had been made were well satisfied with the program.
- What did Julia Gillard really say about a carbon tax? When the Prime Minister said “I don’t rule out the possibility of legislating a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, a market-based mechanism,”. “I rule out a carbon tax.” Did she actually tell a lie? Clearly she showed an intent to keep her options open. As it turns out we have a market based scheme. She was not trying to deceive. She was being honest within the uncertainty of the circumstances. And a biased media intent on bringing down the government never gave her the benefit of the doubt.
Since the inception of a minority government with a women at its head a biased media has spent two and a bit years trying to bring it down for its own vested reasons. It has given Tony Abbott a free ride and even with an election looming it has little intention of putting any policy pressure on him. Who needs the truth. The fact of the matter is that if you take a close look at the governments policies you could make a good case for it being the most reformist the country has seen. In addition they have been competent economic managers. They have achieved significant legislative reforms. And while they have had their missteps, no government is immune from error or miscalculation.
So who can stop the biased rants of main stream media? Blogs like this one can.
A family member tells me I am the most politically biased man he has ever met. Mind you he also thinks you can win an argument by shouting the loudest. I counter that by saying I am a democrat in the first instance. Meaning that although I am of the left I concede that the right has as much right to govern as does my side. He thinks the left should never gain power so I will leave it to the reader to decide who is biased. Bias to me is the elimination of truth and fact. Or when its impossible to comprehend or acknowledge the other point of view. One sees it continuously in the comments people post on this blog. More often than not they are an expression of the writers feelings rather than a conveyance of fact,and its called bias.
One last thought. I am a Bombers supporter (Essendon) They will win this years premiership by 10 goals on the trot. And I am not biased.