In the politically-divided US where national television networks, radio stations, newspapers, magazines, and online news media are classified on a left-to-right scale from most liberal to very conservative, the public pines for the sacred journalistic ideals of perspective, fairness, balance, and accuracy. Unfortunately few news media here produce content with these imperatives.
These and other virtues such as striving relentlessly to seek the truth are what I learned and embraced on my own as an aspiring journalist teen when I entered high school at San Sebastian College in Manila. Later at the Institute of Mass Communication at UP, these qualities were reinforced upon us as journalism majors.
In my first News Writing 101 class there, I remember that the professor had filled up the entire length of the blackboard with just five letters – FACTS – and began his lesson by saying loudly: “At all times, as you enter our noble profession, remember this: facts are your bible!
Facts, balance, seeking the truth have mattered a lot to me. So I was surprised to see US major news media ‘polls’ in November 2016 show suspiciously huge wins for Hillary Clinton in her campaign against Donald Trump for the US presidency.
I followed that election keenly and closely with traditional major media. But social media revealed deceitful tactics of major US news organizations, such as concealing actual tiny audiences of 300+ people around Clinton in small school cafeterias, yet prohibited cameramen from panning around to show 30,000+ people at Trump’s massive rallies in huge arenas.
The combined ‘polls’ of well-known national TV networks and newspapers predicted that Mrs. Clinton would win overwhelmingly. One newspaper even predicted an 85 percent Clinton victory: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/upshot/presidential-polls-forecast.html
In many ‘polls’ by US news media, most respondents were Democrats – supporters of Mrs. Clinton. What poll results would you expect? In 1986 in The Media Elite political scientists Robert and Linda Lichter and Stanley Rothman, surveyed journalists at The New York Times, The Washington Post, and broadcast networks, and found large majorities of them were Democratic voters whose attitudes were to the left of the general public on a variety of topics.
Trump won 306 electoral votes – 57 percent of the total 538 electoral votes. These are votes that lead to wins in US presidential contests. Political leanings of US news media haven’t changed much since then. Regardless, to regain public trust, US news media must be impartial in political coverage.
So it is truly heartening to learn that Filipino audiences have an overall extremely positive view of Philippine news media, based on a January 2018 report of results of a Pew Research Center survey of news consumers in 38 countries.
It is revealingly entitled Publics Globally Want Unbiased News Coverage, but Are Divided on Whether Their News Media Deliver: Deep political divides in many nations on satisfaction with news media; greatest is in the US. This multifaceted study is a must-read eye-opener for all those working in or owning news media.
Filipino respondents – the public – said that Philippine media:
- Have a high degree of perspective, with an 87 percent positive response saying that they cover the most important news events
- Have fairness in their coverage of political issues: 78 percent responded affirmatively
- Have balance in their news coverage on government leaders and officials, with an 83 percent positive response
- Have accuracy in coverage, with 86 percent in the affirmative
Only people from Tanzania responded with higher scores on their news media – respectively with 92 on perspective, 83 on fairness, 89 on balance, and 93 on accuracy. News media in Greece received the lowest scores – 42, 18, 25, and 22 respectively. In the politically-divided US, the highest score given the news media was 61 for perspective, a very low 47 for fairness, a low 58 for balance, and just 56 for accuracy.
What does all this really tell us? News media such as in the US can be very technologically advanced, have fast and long reach, yet still lag far behind the majority of nations on things that really matter to the public they serve. like credibility and trust.
One of the most important findings of this study, quoting the report, was this: “The survey finds that a median of 75 percent across 38 countries say it is never acceptable for a news organization to favor one political party over others when reporting the news.”
I assert unequivocally that news media, particularly reporters and editors covering politics, to win or maintain the hearts and minds of the public, should always adhere to the four aspects of good journalism – perspective, fairness, balance, and accuracy. Perspective includes showing all important sides. Finally, we all should always be seeking the truth!
Kumar (Kem) Balani has an AB Journalism degree from the University of the Philippines and an MA in Politics from New York University. He is founder and publisher of Biz India Online News since 2002. Go to www.BizIndia.net to read book reviews, features, news, opinion columns, and videos on business, entertainment, investing, law, sports, technology, and more.
This column first appeared in the Daily Tribune in the Philippines on Sunday, December 23, 2018. Read Kumar Balani’s columns in that newspaper: http://tribune.net.ph/index.php/author/kumar-balani/