The Media’s Role in Informing the Public
“‘We do not often print everything we know,’” reveals David Lawerence, publisher of the Miami Herald (qtd. in Valente 4). There is a contrast between printing everything that is known, selecting information to disregard, and presenting information that is simply false. This difference has an impact on society. Media personnel representing a major bias also have an affect on facts that are being analyzed by the masses.
Thus, accuracy in journalism is important to help an informed public make decisions.
“Journalists are trained to operate under a professional code of values and ethics…” states a foreman for the Society of Professional Journalists (“Code of Ethics” 1). According to the SPJ, each individual in the media is aware of their code of ethics. An important ethical concern of the society is that journalists need to be accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers, and each other. They are responsible to “test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error” (1). The society does not permit the deliberate misuse of information.
Not only that, but “unethical practices of other journalists…should be uncovered and exposed” (2). The SPJ does contend however, that a journalist’s main interest should be the public’s right to know (2). Lastly the society states that if there is any miscommunication between the public and journalists, the public should be “encouraged to voice their grievances against the news media” (3). The SPJ, along with other organizations such as AIM.org and FAIR.org, is promoting accuracy and media fairness, but also trying to ensure careers of respectable journalists without compromising the legitimacy of information.
Many editors and journalists in the media agree that there are journalists who do not abide by the code of ethics presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. The most popular belief among conservatives is that the news media has a liberal bias. The liberals, believe the news media has a conservative slant. Conservatives contend that the press gives short shrift to traditional conservatives topics such as religion and family values, while giving disproportionate attention to liberal positions such as abortion, feminism, gay rights, and the environment (“Media Bias” 157-158). The journalist may be liberal and might claim that attention is unbalanced in favor of the conservatives. Such seems to be the opinion of liberals in the 1996 election when 111 daily newspapers supported Dole’s campaign, while only 65 endorsed Clinton’s (158).
This shows that although media bias does for the most part tend to be liberal and democratic, conservative bias does exist and still affects the public. However, the affect any bias has on the public varies because “consumers define bias in sources differently than journalists do” (158). Scholars argue that at certain times the American press has been more liberal or conservative, reflecting the climate of the country at the time (Valente 10). Although one critic reasons that the problem may not be journalistic bias, but the way journalists approach balance and fairness might be misunderstood, even rejected by the news consumers (Hess 65). A crucial job of a journalist is to appease the public while maintaining a balance of opinion in his or her work.
Another technique to alter the appearance of a story is to present false information.
The popularity, for example, of one-hour newsmagazines has placed pressure upon these moneymakers to create flashy and sensational reporting often at the expense of accuracy and honesty (Hess 65). As in the case of Dateline, a newsmagazine
affiliated with NBC, two car crashes were staged to show that GM trucks were unsafe and hazardous to the public. Later it was discovered that the “holocaust” fire that was described was in fact planned by NBC to “get a decent show” (61). The piece was later retracted due to obviously fraudulent actions on NBC’s part.
What the public views on TV has a great impact on how they act in life. According to a poll conducted at the Roper Center, 71% of those surveyed said they relied on news in helping them make “practical decisions…in manners such as investing, purchasing, voting, health, and education” (Valente 4).
Accurate and honest information is then crucial to the .