As many of my social media friends and Twitter followers know, I have written a book about the cause of media bias – explaining media inequality. The book is done so it’s time to find a publisher. To help with this journey, your sharing of this post would be appreciated. Thank you!
The book is written for news audiences. It traces many recent and historical cases of media bias; it is cathartic in highlighting and explaining reasons for media inequality, making sense of mass audience exasperation. It is also for journalists who want to improve their work.
The 1st chapter describes how important news is to society and healthy democracy through related functions: watchdogs on powerful, and facilitators of what should be fair, diverse marketplace of ideas. When they fulfil these roles, democracy thrives. When they don’t, it dies.
In chapter two, I describe how frustrated audiences are with media bias – 500k signed Kevin Rudd’s petition seeking royal commission into the Murdoch media. Bias is the bogeyman under the bed: audiences know it’s there but find it hard to define. Yet, journos claim it doesn’t exist because of watertight routines of objectivity and balance.
To explore audience frustration at media bias, I delve deep into reporting of Vic COVID-19 crisis in 2020. I explain how many of audience’s explanations for bias – such as Murdoch conspiracy – do not fully account for bias, and how my ideas challenge much academic orthodoxy on bias.
To showcase media bias, in chapter three I tell a story of media bias by describing the one-sided coverage of 2016 Country Fire Authority (CFA) dispute. I quantified bias in over 300 news stories about this politicised industrial conflict in my PhD project. Bias existed in collective media narrative.
In chapter four, I argue CFA dispute the story to fit default industrial story-template used through Australian history – the authority narrative. Bias is about assumption. The assumption of authority story is that head of business/organisation (capital class) are automatically legitimate. The other side of this coin is those who challenge the authority story, who challenge power – trade unions, left wing political or social groups – tell an empathy story which is not the default narrative, and is instead assumed by media to less legitimate and gets little coverage. Dominant authority story explains taken-for-granted legitimacy of powerful ahead of less powerful: employers ahead of workers, right ahead of left, men ahead of women, white people ahead of people of colour – media inequality results from and contributes to structural inequality.
In chapter five, I describe how default authority story and less-powerful empathy story are evident in other historical industrial news narratives. Authority story dominated reporting of Shearers’ Strike and Hawke Accord – it is as old as the hills and as powerful as ever.
Chapter six shows that in rare occasions when the authority narrative is strongly undermined – when capital class and Liberal politicians who represent them overreach and damage public interest – undo their legitimacy and the news narrative flips from authority to empathy. Examples of empathy story dominating media reporting are the Pig Iron Dispute, the Waterfront Dispute and WorkChoices – all successful campaigns for the labour movement, but none having a sustained influence on the ongoing pattern of media bias towards the authority story.
In chapter seven, I present idea of train-track narratives to explain how journalists tend to follow-the-leader when it comes to collective storytelling. I discuss how characters in news stories are framed as villains, victims or heroes, and how info is moulded to fit on tracks.
Chapter eight builds on bias train-track idea to explain how extreme cases of bias result in disinformation. This occurs when news info is moulded and fudged to fit the dominant story, to the point where reality is misrepresented, is not verified, and represents false narratives. This chapter also discusses the perils of false-balance – or false-equivalency – referred to as ‘bothsidesism.’ I am reminded of a wonderful tweet: “If he says it is raining, and she says it is not, the job of the journalist is to look out the window and tell the audience which is true.”
Inevitably, chapter nine is about conscious bias by interrogating Murdoch media. The default authority story is unconscious bias, but in Murdoch’s case, it’s deliberate, partisan-bias. I describe how Murdoch runs interventionist campaigns and how their coverage infects the rest. In this chapter, I use the false-narrative of ‘African gangs’ to show how Murdoch media is responsible for divisive cultural wars, working in concert with right wing politicians, and how their intense media concentration is damaging the social fabric and distorting reality.
Chapter 10 is about media power. Although journalists claim to be passive and not powerful, they hold the power to craft reality for the audience. With this power comes responsibility to deliver more equality in the marketplace of ideas. I ask “who is watching the watchdogs?”
Finally, the last chapter is about the impact of media inequality on the audience. Like all inequality, those who suffer it feel a great sense of injustice. This includes the destructive impact of media bias on CFA firefighters and Victorian news audiences during the COVID-19 crisis. In this chapter, I give some insights into how journalists react (badly) to complaints of media bias, how they circle the wagons, call the audience names, and ultimately, how they work together to delegitimise those who critique them (as evidenced on Twitter), rather than self-reflecting.
So there you have it. If you’re keen to read more about each of these topics, please show your support by sharing or liking this post.
The research underpinning this book is peer reviewed – mine and others.
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