MEDIA BIAS
Photo: Gage Skidmore

In 2013, Rafael Marques was brutally “detained” by officers who threw him against the ground and stomped on the bones of his back. He was then veered into court where he was given a six month prison sentence.

For the last three years, he spent most of his time defending himself against false accusatory cases from Angolan generals and mining companies. He recounts his observations and findings of vile, exploitive and dehumanizing cases of the blood diamond industry in his book Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola.

For this reason, the government attempted to silence him through unfair lawsuits and physical force from Angolan military officials. All this had been behind the workings of the president himself, José Eduardo dos Santos, who has ruled the nation of Angola for 35 years.

Rafael Marques is a journalist. In a first world country, journalism is thought of as a sphere that “gathers, assesses, creates, and presents news and information.” The journalists that fall under this umbrella serve as the watchdogs for society. Their jobs are to present vivid, accurate and detailed information to the people. It is their duties to shed light on scandals, bring forth summaries of accounts, and update a fast paced world on breaking news and events.

Now, imagine a world where the media is censored, under watch by Big Brother (in this case the government). Imagine a world where the government contorts pieces of information presented by news outlets to meet their personal satisfaction, under the pretense that the media is “free” when in actuality it is stifled by the greedy fists of governmental officials eager to meet their own agendas and cover the footprints of corruption.

Such is the case in the country of Angola, where journalism does not paint the language of democracy, but rather screams a foreign outcry, a language of corruption and censorship.

In America, journalists are protected by their most basic right stamped under the first amendment, freedom of the press, where citizens have the “right to circulate opinion in print without censorship by the government.” The government has no right to inhibit this basic right from its citizens.

History is a perfect example of what happens when situations arise where people in power aim to control what is printed in the media. An example of this could be seen in the case of Near v. Minnesota in 1931, where Minnesota officials obtained an injunction to keep a Minneapolis newspaper editor, Jay Near, from publishing “malicious, scandalous and defamatory” articles. The Supreme Court ruled that this law held certain information from being published, thus violating the first amendment.

Generally speaking, the government does not have control of the media, as this would be a direct violation. The government should never have control of the media. If such were the case, we would see cases arise like those in Angola, and that would be the last thing we’d want under a nation preserving the rights of its citizens. Non-governmental control, however, does not always mean great media.

In schools, we are taught about the ethical importance of unbiased news. As journalists, we’re taught in school the importance of maintaining neutrality in news writing. I’ve analyzed multiple of articles given to me as examples of “neutral news” and yet I ‘ve still been able to detect a bit of biased reporting in its writing. It smells loud and clear out of the page, a strong scent of venom painted by its author.

It’s almost humanely impossible to not hold opinions. Our brains are simply not constructed that way. Our upbringing, our religion, our education, among other things shape the way we see the world and form judgments about the life around us.

In a bipartisan society, it is almost impossible to have a neutral stance in politics. The writers of the news outlets we read are strongly fueled by political discourse and aim to bring to light flaws in the system. These writers are also partisan supporters, driven by the passion to tell a story.

Ordinary citizens, not necessarily journalists, have direct access to social media platforms, and other tools to generate views and start conversations all over the world. What we’re exposed to online subconsciously influences the way we think, regardless if the content is true or not.

Power is the ability to not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.

An article published by the Washington Post ranks the media from liberal to conservative based on views by consumers. News outlets such as New Yorker State, The Guardian, The New York Times, Huffington Post and CNN rank far left, as the audience is more consistently liberal. Fox News, Drudge Report, The Blaze, Glenn Beck Program and the Rush Limbaugh Show all fall towards the far right, ranking as consistently conservative, Fox News’s viewership standing as more moderate.

These are perfect examples of news driven by partisanship. An article written on the National Review by writer David Harsanyi “There Is No Such Thing as Unbiased Journalism, So Let’s Stop Pretending” perfectly put it in a nutshell.

He states: “It’s unrealistic to expect that even the most conscientious journalist can wholly divorce his or her professional work from his or her philosophical positions. And even if that person were to put forth the sincerest effort possible, biases are likely to manifest themselves in the focus and tone of his or her work. And this doesn’t even account editors and headline writers, often the worst culprits in one-sided political coverage.”

Which leads us to this question: Is there some sort of manipulation being fed to us from the media, and why do they feel it’s necessary to push that agenda?

I like to give a personal account when I ponder this question, as I’ve pondered on it multiple of times.

I’m originally from southern Africa, born in Luanda, Angola. Whenever I tell people that I’m African, instantaneously I receive multiple reactions. I might be asked about how the animals in Africa are, although the majority of my childhood growing up in Africa I’ve never seen a monkey in my neighborhood. I might get a look of concern, followed by a question like, “Wow. Where did you live?” Sad to disappoint most inquirers, I reply with: “In a house.”

They probably expect some story of living in a hut surrounded by indigenous people. They also may expect a story laden with accounts of poverty and disease. I don’t blame this outlook, since it’s what the media mostly paints. More often than not, we are exposed to images of extremely emaciated children with fat bellies and flies swarming around their faces. Chances are there’s also a number below the image directing viewers to “call in” and donate or sponsor a child.

Not to completely eradicate this reality from my continent, but there are other places that people don’t get to see.

I’ve witnessed places of beauty and color having had the opportunity to live in Cape town, South Africa, and Windhoek Namibia.

I lived in an apartment that overlooked the Table Mountains in Cape Town. Waking up every morning and witnessing this breathtaking view reminded me of how blessed I was. I would do anything to have this view again.

Like everybody else, I went to school in the city. I took classes in English. I studied History. I was exposed to different cultures. Later on in life I came to recognize the power of the media, and how it influences and shapes the way we perceive the world.

In a Ted Talk by the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Adichie gives an account on “the danger of a single story.”

“They make one story become the only story.”

She states, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

She further goes on to say: “Power is the ability to not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have an entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state and you have an entirely different story.”

Which brings us back to the question: Are the biases necessary? Yes, in my opinion. Do we need to be exposed to conservative and liberal news outlets? Also, yes, I believe so.

It is not the question of whether or not we are “manipulated” by their agendas, but rather what we choose to listen. Our personal views on politics drive us to support media platforms that mostly reflect our own views. Either it be one or the other, there is room for thought because we are exposed to these options.

So when people bash conservative news outlets for pushing their agendas, there is no need for bashing.

When presidential candidate Donald Trump is defiant against journalist Anderson Cooper for probing him with the question of his boasted sexual assault against women, there is no need to bash Cooper.

Journalism is biased.

This creates a world of discussion, of education, and open-mindedness. Being able to be exposed to all views allows us to steer clear from the danger of a single story.

So on that sunny day in Luanda, Angola, when journalist Rafael Márquez and his team decided to conduct interviews from women, children, and men working strenuous and hazardous hours in diamond mining regions, he had an end goal in mind: to create a story. To start with the people that were mostly affected, although this meant going against the wishes of the Angolan government.

Because he decided to do so, we are exposed to a story of horrors of systematic oppression and the evils of a dark world.

Imagine if he was never “biased,” if he allowed the government to have their say, and their story only.

What a disadvantage that would be to society.

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