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A recent Gallup poll in the United States revealed that while 62 per cent of Democratic Party voters trusted the media, only 14 per cent of Republicans believed the media regularly got the facts straight.
Is there really bias in the news and public affairs media? Is the Pope Catholic? Is the Dalai Lama Buddhist? The answer to these questions: Yes.
You can’t expect objectivity from newspaper and television news, and most of the bias is left-leaning. Although reporters ritually disavow any such tilt, it’s been proven in study after study of North American media.
Right-wingers, especially social conservatives, can’t expect to see their side of an issue fairly presented – or presented at all. If you hold a dissenting view on gay marriage, climate change, gun control or abortion, you’ll search newspapers and the electronic media in vain for spokesmen articulating your side of the debate.
This is particularly true for our national, taxpayer-funded media, despite the fact the Canada’s Broadcasting Act requires Radio-Canada and the CBC to provide a reasonable opportunity for the public to be exposed to the expression of differing views on matters of public concern.
There are lots of reasons for this leftist bias but chief is that, overwhelmingly, reporters, editors and producers identify as being on the ‘progressive’ side of politics. Many view their calling as not a way to describe the world but as a way to change it in a particular direction. This means the information the public receives is often filtered through only one side of the political spectrum.
Bias is not necessarily dangerous, however, if two other conditions exist.
The first is that listeners and readers are aware that what they’re being told comes with a particular political slant. Everyone knows that the Daily Worker speaks with a Marxist voice, and that Fox News and Rebel Media lean to the right. The problem is that mainstream media purports to be centrist or objective when, in fact, it’s a megaphone for various shades of leftism.
The second condition that could mitigate the effect of journalistic bias is diversity. If the public has a wide variety of voices to inform them, they have a better chance of hearing diverse views. In the 19th and 20th centuries, when Canadian cities had multiple newspapers, it didn’t matter that the Globe was a Liberal paper and the Empire was a Conservative one: Toronto readers had a choice that most readers don’t now have. Eighty per cent of Canadian media is now owned by only five corporations and in many markets, the local newspaper, TV and radio stations are owned by the same company.
The newspaper industry is in a death spiral and we can’t expect to see the return of the golden age of competing broadsheets. A wholesale replacement of left-wing reporters, commentators, and producers isn’t going to happen, and expecting the government to regulate diversity of opinion would produce a cure that’s worse than the disease.
So what’s the solution?
It lies in all of us becoming better consumers of information, seeking out alternative sources and being willing to spend time winnowing the fake news from the real news.
Gerry Bowler is a Winnipeg historian and a senior fellow at the think-tank Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
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