Over the last month of being in my media ethics class, I’ve noticed a common thread that strings together many of our class discussions. That thread — a question of the necessity of bias in the media — has resulted in heated arguments and a rush of complicated scenarios brought up as examples — and as the students in my class have concluded, there is no clear answer.
Some say that bias in the media should be entirely eliminated; journalists should strip every piece they write of anything and everything that could potentially force the reader into agreement with their personal views. The discussion boils down to the technical side of newswriting: word choice, the inclusion of even the most minor details, and the lack of such details. The argument that I’ve found most convincing, however, is one which points out that most people who read the news have an understanding that they are being told the story through the lens of a particular writer. This is especially true in the case of television news: I’d imagine that most regular viewers of FOX News know that they are watching a station with a conservative slant, while those who watch MSNBC know that they are watching a station with a more liberal slant.
Most importantly, there are plenty of more-neutral outlets that cover the same stories that the politically-slanted outlets do. This brings me to my point: the responsibility of recognizing bias and trying to prevent it from persuading a person falls on the viewer or reader as an individual. If a person chooses to stay informed through a station that they know shares the same general views that they do, that is their personal choice. In my opinion, the fact that we as modern-day media consumers have the opportunity to view both sides of a news story with the click of a button is nothing but good news. That being said, the most responsible consumers, and those who will consistently remain thoroughly informed, are the ones who will read each story with a critical eye — one that analyzes a so-called “neutral” story for signs of bias in order to be sure they are forming their own opinions. Furthermore, it is always a good idea for a person to keep up-to-date on both or all sides of a major news story, in order to understand the discussion that will inevitably surround them.
Keeping an open mind is the key to being a teachable person who can respectfully discuss important issues with the people around them. Thanks to the wide variety of media outlets — both print and television, biased and unbiased or neutral — being informed on all sides of a story has never been easier.