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30 August, 2004

Whose news?

This was a digression from the previous posting, but I think it deserves its own space rather than force two topics into one posting and diminish both.

I'd say the user-led approach to information provision is vital in gaining a balanced perspective on current affairs.  I very rarely read a (printed) newspaper, or watch TV news (I don't listen to the radio at all, so obviously don't hear the news there either), for two reasons:

  • Mass-media news is biased. Pretty much anything that is published/broadcast has undergone a process of interpretation and paraphrasing to meet the constraints of its medium, and hence been filtered through the perceptions (and agenda, if one wishes to be cynical) of journalists, editors and proprietors. The same applies to most online sources, but one can readily read accounts from a range of providers rather than blindly trusting one or two, which merely establish and sustain preconceptions.
  • In addition to how news is reported, there's an editorial decision on what is reported, and its relative prominence (front or inner pages of a newspaper, or position in the running order of a news broadcast). There's a mildly infamous example of ITN devoting 7-10 minutes of a 30-minute bulletin to the merits of a new variety of vacuum cleaner, whilst failing to find even thirty seconds to report the deaths of hundreds of people in an incident in Africa. If one reads news from a range of sources (as facilitated by the internet), in an order of one's own choosing, the external editorial control is, in turn, controlled by the recipient (but remember my previous posting: provider-led information can fill knowledge gaps the recipient hadn't noticed).
There's a very real risk of this degenerating into a rant, so I'll stop (for now) and just say that I do take the cynical view that broadcast news is, at least to some extent, an instrument of social control, distracting dissent with trivia and reinforcing the establishment on core matters: "There was a [insert traumatic incident] today, but no-one you know was involved and fundamentally all's well with the world, and hey, did you hear about [insert celebrity]'s boob job? Trust the Government. The Government is your friend. Spend money."

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