Why media should be open about their personal views

July 16th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

writes in the Manawatu Standard:

Does this mean my views aren’t coloured by my own philosophies? Of course not! By virtue of being human, I suffer from cognitive biases which can never be fully eradicated. The same goes for every single person involved in journalism. You should never believe anyone who claims to be wholly dispassionate on matters of public affairs.

But one really curious thing about alleged is that it can depend on the reader as much as it does on the writer.

In 1982, Stanford University undertook a landmark study on how people with strongly held views perceive media coverage. The test subjects were divided into two groups – those who sympathised with Israel and those who opposed it. When shown news reports of the Lebanese Civil War, the pro-Israel group complained that the coverage was biased against Israel. The same reports were then shown to the anti-Israel group – who complained that they were biased in favour of Israel.

Both groups felt that the coverage would unduly influence an undecided person towards the opposite position.

As a matter of objective reality, of course, they couldn’t both be right. These studies therefore give us an important insight into how we perceive the news. This is sometimes called the “hostile media effect”.

We see this here with some people convinced the NZ Herald hates the Government and some people convinced they try to help the Government.

Here’s the ironic thing: some studies show that perception of media bias will drop off when the writer is open about his or her personal views on the subject. This could be because if readers know what the writer’s biases are; they will be prepared for what’s coming. Their expectations aren’t injured when they find they disagree with the writer’s conclusions.

You can see why this creates problems for “straight news” reporters who try hard to cover contentious issues without favour. As one researcher in this field once put it: “If I think the world is black, and you think the world is white, and someone comes along and says it is grey, we will both think that person is biased.”

Opinion writers don’t suffer from that problem.

Not that this will placate everybody. There will always be those who fundamentally don’t accept that reasonable people can have differing views.

When confronted with opinions they don’t like, these people really have three choices. First, they can try to persuade their ideological opponents with constructive debate.

Second, they can simply avoid people and media that do not affirm their pre-conceptions. Third, they can try to hound people they disagree with out of the public square.

I believe that a good liberal sees only the first two options as respectable. Again, however, that’s just an opinion.

I think it is beneficial for journalists to be open about their worldview.

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41 Responses to “Why media should be open about their personal views”

  1. Colville (2,268 comments) says:

    A voice of reason from the Manawatu Standard, a paper so left leaning it should be printed in red ink!

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  2. Chris2 (766 comments) says:

    When the adultery scandal broke late last year, involving recently re-elected Auckland Mayor Len Brown, the NZ Herald was very slow to report the unfolding news, and indeed they pursued his defeated rival instead looking for a conspiracy, rather than asking the more important questions “do the allegations against Brown have any merit?”. It was months before the Herald finally called on him to resign.

    The Herald’s writers Bernard Orsman and Brian Ridman are champions of Len Brown, and because of this they should not be regarded as legitimate journalists. The Herald has no regular writers with views opposing Orsman or Rudman and therefore the Herald is indeed partisan in its reporting. It pursued John Banks more vigorously than Len Brown.

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  3. Judith (8,534 comments) says:

    Perhaps more than just open about their own world view, would be an openness about what they are trying to achieve and for whom. I think the media often write about things they know the public will either love, or hate – it doesn’t matter which, because as long as the public has an opinion, preferably an emotionally based or at least biased one about a particular issue, they are going to read the articles.

    Just as the media play the public, so too are the media played. It would be interesting to know who the puppet masters are.

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  4. ShawnLH (5,124 comments) says:

    In continental Europe there is a tradition of having newspapers clearly having their political bias open and up front, so everybody knows that if you buy newspaper X or newspaper Y your going to have views from the Left or views from the Right.

    This strikes me as far more sensible than the Anglo tradition of claiming neutrality and objectivity, when clearly neither is possible.

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  5. tom hunter (4,852 comments) says:

    One simple question then: when will NZ see a right-wing equivalent of John Campbell?

    By that I mean someone who:
    – understands and agrees with most right-wing economic and social stands, not all, just most.

    – understands those things well enough that questions are asked from a right-wing perspective (i.e. would increasing welfare benefits actually improve the lives of welfare beneficiaries and society?)

    – chooses stories that highlight a right-wing perspective (has Lindsay Mitchell ever been interviewed on TV, how about regularly)

    – is on five nights a week on one of the major TV channels, constantly choosing stories and asking questions that hammer home the ideology.

    And of course this will never happen, not least in NZ, which is one major reason why the legacy media continues to die.

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  6. freethinker (691 comments) says:

    Not accurate Shawn most UK papers have a clear leaning – The Mirror is left, the Mail is right with only a few like the Financial Times being relatively neutral.

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  7. igm (1,413 comments) says:

    Hehir is the only decent scribe in the “Manawatu Standard” stable. It is the most left-wing piece of crap in the country, its editor and deputy, close supporters of Lees-Galloway. If it were not for Liam, they would have been down the tubes a while back, however, they are still on borrowed time, as advertisers have pulled the pin en masse, and there are more in the wings.

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  8. greenjacket (466 comments) says:

    A good article. I have often wondered why David Fisher is permitted to write articles in the Herald on Kim Dotcom without any statement of interest.

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  9. ShawnLH (5,124 comments) says:

    “Not accurate Shawn most UK papers have a clear leaning”

    Yup, fair call. So I wonder why we don’t have the same in NZ?

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  10. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    ‘One simple question then: when will NZ see a right-wing equivalent of John Campbell?’
    Where do you think Mike Hosking sits on the spectrum? Other than in a special fuckwit category.

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  11. ShawnLH (5,124 comments) says:

    “Where do you think Mike Hosking sits on the spectrum? Other than in a special fuckwit category.”

    Campbell has already won the award for special fuckwit category Mike.

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  12. tom hunter (4,852 comments) says:

    Where do you think Mike Hosking sits on the spectrum? Other than in a special fuckwit category.

    I’ve not watched TV in NZ for years now, especially the “news” or “current affairs” programs, so have no idea about Hosking on screen. What makes him right-wing in your opinion – or in the fuckwit category? Does he fulfil any of the things I listed or is he merely NZ’s answer to The O’Reilly Factor?

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  13. ShawnLH (5,124 comments) says:

    Paul Henry could be considered the Right wing version of Campbell.

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  14. ShawnLH (5,124 comments) says:

    Bias issues aside the news media in NZ is appallingly amateurish compared to overseas media in Europe or the US. We are not well served.

    Gotta go. By for now.

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  15. tom hunter (4,852 comments) says:

    On a side note, the Free to Choose series showcasing Milton Freidman was put together by none other than PBS, the Public Broadcasting Service in the USA – in 1980!

    I can’t imagine them doing something like that nowadays when even their NOVA and Frontline reports run more like Campbell Live. As an example check out the 2009 Frontline documentary on the GFC – Inside the Meltdown: there was not a single voice making a non left-wing argument.

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  16. David Garrett (7,285 comments) says:

    Shawn: I agree…and it’s not just continental Europe…if you are a London stockbroker and live next to a Penelope Keith lookalike you will probably find the Telegraph ‘s point of view suits you nicely…If you work with one legged lesbians in East Ham, it will be the Guardian for you…So I agree…much better that papers take a clear position, and you know what you are getting…I suspect because of our very small market they tend to try and be “all things to all men” so as many people as possible buy them…

    Having said all that, have you read the SST lately? It is markedly better than it was …using “better” to mean more objective…and I find Colin Espiner’s columns almost always worth a read…when he was supposedly independent he was just another left leaning journo…either he has changed or I have…

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  17. Unity (584 comments) says:

    I feel investigative journalism, apart from Ian Wishart, is non-existent in this country. I have always thought that it was the media’s responsibility to investigate and inform the public. The UK’s Daily Mail and one or two other papers are excellent in this regard. They are relentless when they try to inform and get the politicians to sit up and take note and they usually achieve something in the end..

    Why have our papers not investigated and informed us all as to how we are being duped big time with regard to the fraudulent settlements that are being bequeath to one lot of people who have as little as a smidgen of ‘Maori’ blood? It doesn’t seem to matter that most have much more other blood or that they are using the wrong English draft Treaty and recently invented Principles to gain access to billions, with even more special funding specifically for this one supposed race of people. If they went by the Maori Treaty which is the only one that matters, they would realise how wrong these settlements are. Forests and Fisheries aren’t even mentioned for starters. So where does that leave the massive funding into these two? I could go on and on but an enormous injustice is being done to the rest of us and the papers are totally silent on the issue. However, some do publish letters to the Editor but the journalists are not doing their job by any means. They should be delving into this big time and informing because the Sheeple (people who behave like sheep) are completely oblivious. When they finally wake up it will be too late. These things prevail when good men do nothing.

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  18. igm (1,413 comments) says:

    mikenwimp: The only person you would have the guts to call a fuckwit to their face would be your wife (being a leftie I suppose you have a partner, probablt same sex). People that make abusive statements on here such as yours, are always gutless, worthless, pieces of shit that would run if confronted.

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  19. stephieboy (3,091 comments) says:

    Ian Wishart a investigative journalist of repute.??

    An exemplary investigative conspiracy monger, yes.!

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  20. Nigel Kearney (1,013 comments) says:

    It is probably too much to ask that journalists not be biased at all, or that they announce their personal political preferences in advance. But I think it’s reasonable to expect a clear separation between reporting of fact and presenting personal opinions. What annoys me most is the way people like Patrick Gower put a massive spin on the news, not always left or right, but never just an unvarnished report on what actually happened, allowing viewers to draw their own conclusions.

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  21. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    We have some reasonable investigative journalism. What about Jon Stephenson on Afghanistan? Some of Phil Kitchen’s stuff for the DomPost is good.

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  22. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    ‘People that make abusive statements on here such as yours, are always gutless, worthless, pieces of shit that would run if confronted.’
    Irony alert.

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  23. cha (4,018 comments) says:

    People that make abusive statements on here such as yours, are always gutless, worthless, pieces of shit that would run if confronted.

    Here puss-puss-puss…smell the ironing.

    (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

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  24. Judith (8,534 comments) says:

    @ igm (1,384 comments) says:
    July 16th, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    mikenwimp: The only person you would have the guts to call a fuckwit to their face would be your wife (being a leftie I suppose you have a partner, probablt same sex). People that make abusive statements on here such as yours, are always gutless, worthless, pieces of shit that would run if confronted.

    ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

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  25. thedavincimode (6,759 comments) says:

    People that make abusive statements on here such as yours, are always gutless, worthless, pieces of shit that would run if confronted.

    Uh huh.

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  26. kowtow (8,487 comments) says:

    shawn Lh

    Your comment on knowing the newspapers’ stance in Europe reminds me of the old one.English context.

    People who read the Workers Daily want people from another country to run the country.
    people who read the Telegraph are the people who used to run the country
    people who read the Tablet think God should run the country
    people who read the Guardian think labour should run the country
    people who read the financial Times do run the country

    while people who read the Sun don;t care who runs the country as long as the page 3 girl has big tits.

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  27. bc (1,367 comments) says:

    igm: “The only person you would have the guts to call a fuckwit to their face would be your wife (being a leftie I suppose you have a partner, probablt same sex). People that make abusive statements on here such as yours, are always gutless, worthless, pieces of shit that would run if confronted.”

    Ha ha, more comedy gold from igm. The irony is priceless.

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  28. David Garrett (7,285 comments) says:

    Kowtow: Very good…

    As for who is an “investigative journalist”, whatever one might think about Ian Wishart’s personal and religious views, I think he well deserves that title. (Disclosure: I write a column for his “Investigate” magazine)

    Someone here the other day linked to a story Ian wrote some time ago involving Clark’s husband and David Parker’s …ah…errors with regard to a company he was involved with. I re-read it and thought “F…how come he didn’t get sued for this”? The only reasonable explanation is of course that no-one he had named fancied their chances in court.

    I also agree that Phil Kitchen and Phil Taylor could also fairly be called “investigative journalists”… as could – at a pinch – Stephen Cook, formerly of Truth.

    bc: That’s all very well…but as regular readers know, when someone has a go at me – which happens not infrequently – I will often offer to meet them face to face …I have never been taken up on my offer, which rather suggests igm might have a point…In fact as I have also said here, since I left parliament NO-ONE has come up to me in person and berated me for my actions of 30 years ago…according to some, that is because I am likely to resort to
    “fisticuffs” if they did…hardly, I am pushing 60…

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  29. tom hunter (4,852 comments) says:

    Here’s a good example of how the debate on media bias goes off the rails, and it’s from today’s GD thread:

    …. not saying the MSNBC is not biased. Its no more or no less than Fox as far as cable networks are concerned.

    What should be noted – and this goes to the heart of the media bias problem – is that MSNBC is in terrible trouble with regard to ratings, whereas Fox News is top of the heap in that segment of cable world. If the overall media bias was not already left-wing MSNBC would be doing at least as well, if not better than Fox.

    MSNBC is not doing well because they’re competing for the same market of viewers – leaving a huge segment all alone for Fox News. That fact alone should tell people that there is an overall left wing bias in the media. And it’s that quantity that matters more than anything else, as media sources piggy-back on a story and hammer it 24/7 for weeks on end – or similarly bury a story as being “of no interest”.

    My favourite example of this herd behaviour for 2014 to date is the blanket coverage of Chris Christie and “Bridgegate”. Now Christie is not my favourite GOPer by any standard. I trust him about as much as the average Democrat trusts Hillary Clinton. Part of me was happy to see him burnt in effigy, but it provided an abject lesson to the prick that all of his media savvy would count for nought when he started running for President – especially with the music hero he slobbered over during the post-hurricane disaster – Bruce Springsteen. As one commentator pointed out, Christie might think he’s very different to Palin but in the eyes of most of the US media he’s not – and they’ll use exactly the same tactics to burn him if necessary, and they’ve still got the ability to pull it off.

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  30. hj (7,023 comments) says:

    I have no doubt the media are biased. Look at the attacks on UKIP. The problem isn’t their opinions but the crowding out of other opinions and the lack of organisation around issues.

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  31. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    You think Christie got more than he deserved from the media?

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  32. tom hunter (4,852 comments) says:

    Does he fulfil any of the things I listed or is he merely NZ’s answer to The O’Reilly Factor?

    More than a few sentences on this would be appreciated. Perhaps a couple of paragraphs. Difficult in the midst of your workday but I’m sure you can do it if you care to.

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  33. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    I’m not really a great fan or watcher of Hosking and have never seen O’Reilly so I don’t think I’m the right person to answer your question. My comment about Hosking was based on a very superficial impression that he tries to be ‘anti-PC’ in a quite out there fashion.

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  34. grumpy (261 comments) says:

    Is this the same Liam Hehir who is a frequent contributor to The Standard – and he write for the Manawatu Standard – and he’s taking about media bias – comedy gold!

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  35. thedavincimode (6,759 comments) says:

    My comment about Hosking was based on a very superficial impression that he tries to be ‘anti-PC’ in a quite out there fashion. of a very superficial impression

    I think that’s what you meant.

    Amusing at times though, although it would be a relief to anyone tuning into his TV show if he gave the blond one so they could get it out of their systems. Either that or shift his show to a more appropriate late evening slot on TV2.

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  36. tom hunter (4,852 comments) says:

    My comment about Hosking was based on a very superficial impression ….

    So when you made the following comment ….

    Where do you think Mike Hosking sits on the spectrum? Other than in a special fuckwit category.

    … you were really expecting me to carry both sides of the debate, perhaps do a bit of reading on Mr Hosking and then contribute my thoughts – while you contributed one sentence questions or assertions, probably ones also rooted in very superficial impressions.

    Fabulous.

    Once again this is your idea of reasoned discussion? As I said of your comment the next day:

    Reasoned discussion usually involves ….. reasoning, which requires more than just single sentence questions and assertions, or the occasional two line paragraph thrown in for shits and giggles.

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  37. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    You’re going to a bit of trouble just to hassle me there, tom.

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  38. tom hunter (4,852 comments) says:

    Mission accomplished for you then, mm. I had thought you were worth it. My mistake.

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  39. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    It is just comments on a blog. Maybe I’m a bit of a hypocrite sometimes. After all, I chose the moniker mikenmild when I joined Kiwiblog because I intended to contribute reasonable, measured and rational criticism. Alas, I am too easily tempted to take the cheap shot or the facile response. I do enjoy debates here though, but I’m under no illusion that my contributions are anything other than for my own amusement – I don’t really expect to change anyone’s opinion.

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  40. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    tom hunter asks:

    One simple question then: when will NZ see a right-wing equivalent of John Campbell?

    If right wingers believe in a free market, why don’t they put their money where their mouth is? Kudos to Alan Gibbs for doing so in the form of Radio Liberty, but then where was the backing (in the form of advertising revenue) from all the other business people who have a vested interest, I would have thought, in fostering an alternative to the voices of the left?

    I say this not to be snarky, but as someone who laments the demise of Radio Liberty [disclaimer: I occasionally did a weekend shift there] and the lack of a right-leaning but well written news magazine such as The Australian Spectator in New Zealand.

    edit: And yes, Phil Kitchin is definitely one of our best investigative reporters. But is it me, or is there hardly anything from him published nowadays?

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  41. tom hunter (4,852 comments) says:

    It was actually a rhetorical question Rex, and I answered it anyway: it will never happen in NZ. We’re a “centre-left” country to start with, but as far as business people are concerned most cannot see beyond the end of their nose. No matter how smart they are, their focus is on the business, not the wider society. For all the left wing screams about the dreaded influence of business on politics or on engineering society, people like the Koch Brothers, Murdoch and Gibbs are few and far between.

    Most business people are happy just to negotiate their way through whatever maze the left constructs and if it gets really bad they just run away to another country. In fact that aspect can apply even within a country as their wealth protects them from the stupidities of politics, and it gets really bad when their offspring are spared even the need to build the wealth. Rules, regulations, bankrupt state pension schemes or healthcare plans? Who cares, they can escape. Even better they can actually tub-thump for left-wing causes and receive the adoration of the left, safe in the knowledge that they and their little darlings won’t bear the brunt of the “unforeseen consequences”.

    I’ve lost track of the number of wealthy 3rd and 4th generation pricks who become left-wingers, in many cases advocating for the very things that would have stuffed their predecessor’s chances of making that wealth in the first place. Look at the Rockefella’s, the Kennedy’s, the Roosevelts – I always chuckle about FDR having to have a mortgage explained to him, he’d never needed one in his life. Victor Davis Hanson sums it up nicely:

    Out here is the antithesis of where I work in Silicon Valley. Each week I leave at sunbreak, and slowly enter a world of Pajama boys in BMWs and Lexuses, with $500 shades and rolling stops at intersections as they frown and speed off to the next deal. Somehow these techies assume voting for Barack Obama means that they are liberal. They are not.

    By proclaiming that they are progressive, they feel good about themselves and do not have to worry about why their janitorial staffs are not unionized, or why no one but they can buy a house, or why they oppose affordable housing construction along the 280 corridor, or why they fear the public schools as if they were the bubonic plague. Their businesses don’t create many jobs in the area; they don’t live among the Other; they seek to get out of paying income tax as they praise higher taxes; and they use money to ensure their own apartheid. And so they are “liberal.”

    No wonder millionaires like Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, and Barbara Boxer represent such a culture. How odd that the power, the water, the food, the lumber, and the minerals that fuel Silicon Valley all come from distant invisible people, the uncool who are overregulated, overtaxed, and over-blamed by those they never see.

    One could add any number of “right-wing” millionaires to that list. They’re not going to bother with my suggestions or yours either.

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