‘Bias’ and ‘Objectivity’ in media
Dr Wallace Chuma
The idea of media power and influence on
social and political practice informs debate
around media bias and objectivity
Applied to media, bias refers to one-sided
interpretation of an event/issue
Effect is to present one side in
favourable/unfavourable light. Such
mediation is deemed to affect democractic
Applied to news, bias is problematic because
it deviates from the notion of objectivity,
upon which media can lay claim to truth and
Media normally make distinctions between
opinion and fact
Assumption is that facts are both objective
Objectivity entails allowing news values to
determine the coverage of an issue. Also
entails giving sufficient (though not
necessarily equal) treatment to different,
sometimes conflucting elements of a story.
Balance entails giving equal coveraghe to all
parties to an event.
Objectivity and balance should be viewed as
Types of Bias
McQuail/Street typologies of Bias include:
The bias debate is hotly contested everywhere.
Issues of methodology have to be considered
Consider the Racism and the Media debate in SA
Or the arguments by Mbeki, Zuma and Nzimande
about media bias against the ANC? [see ANC
Language use by journalists is at the core of
bias or charges of bias
Consider these examples:
i) A headline “Illegal immigrants invade South
Africa”; or recent BBC documenary “No more
ii) Choice of adjectives: Zuma’s ‘rowdy
supporters’, Zimbabwe’s ‘farm invaders’, etc.
Bias also consists in what is not said or who is
not quoted/cited in text.
See Example of story: President blasts
PRESIDENT Mugabe has In an interview …on the
described Dr Simba occasion of his 84th
Makoni, who broke away birthday, Cde Mugabe said
from Zanu-PF to challenge Dr Makoni’s method of
him in the March 29 seeking the highest office
presidential election, as a in the land was
"political prostitute". "absolutely disgraceful"
because he neither has a
party nor the support of
"What has happened Cde Mugabe said the
now is absolutely Zanu-PF election
disgraceful. I didn’t campaign would
think kuti Makoni after focus on resisting the
all the experience British regime change
could behave like the agenda as long as
way he did and in a they continued on
naïve way too that path.
Turning to the "It means purely we
economy, the have got to enhance
President said production, make the
inflation was the goods available as
biggest problem cheap as possible.
causing untold But we need to work
suffering to with people who also
Zimbabweans understand that."
Who is quoted, who’s not?
What’s the content of the quote?
What’s the content of the journalist’s
Are certain (ideological) positions, realities
taken for granted, as the norm?
Is it possible to be bias-free, to be
objective, balanced, neutral?