A free and open media is essential to a functioning democracy. Its role in politics is to “encourage democratization, strengthen the rule of law and promote institution building” (UN News Center). In order for a democracy to work properly, citizens need to be informed on the issues at hand, in a fair and unbiased manner, so they can make sound decisions as to which candidates to vote for. The role of the media in democracy has been realized since the institute’s earliest inception. In 1791 the 1st Amendment was made to the Bill of Rights, and it stated that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people to peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” (PBS). If free press becomes compromised, such as being taken over and run by biased private corporations, then a country’s democracy is at risk, and it can lead to the country becoming a fascist state. In America, the media plays a decisive role in politics and in determining which agendas are successful and which are not and whether or not it has been compromised by private interest continues to be debated.
Bias in the Media
Whether or not any press can be truly free remains a subject of much debate. Media outlets, just like any other enterprise, rely on a steady flow of funds in order to operate. Thus, they rely on sponsors either through the sales of advertisements or through government funding. Media outlets also much appeal to the demands and tastes of the audience. Various media outlets must compete amongst each other for viewers, so catering to the tastes of that audience becomes a science. “Restricted by the limited tastes of the audience and reliant upon political elites for most information, journalists participate in an interdependent news system, not a free market of ideas” (Entman 3). Since the media depends on private funds and large numbers of viewers, it is possible that its agenda becomes compromised, from giving a fair and unbiased news report to one that caters towards the tastes of viewers and investors.
While media outlets do have the opportunity to be biased, depending on their audience and funding, there are still a wide range of mass media outlets for viewers to choose from. Viewers have a choice as to where to get their news from. If one station seems biased towards one viewpoint, the channel can quickly be changed. Over the decades, technology has increased the ways in which a viewer can get their news. In the 1970’s, television was the main outlet for mass media. There were just seven channels available to the average household, and these captured 80% of all viewing. However, technology has changed this dramatically. In 2005, 85% of households had access to satellite or cable TV and had on average a hundred channels to choose from. Today, viewers can also choose to get their news not just from TV but also from the Internet and smart phones (Muntz 224). With the wide range of choices as to where to get the news, it would not be presumptuous to expect a wider range of political viewpoints to be expressed from various media outlets. However, this does not appear to be the case.
Journalists themselves are also inherently biased. While the goal of journalism is to give a fair and unbiased representation of the story being covered, a reporter’s personal views, preferences, and identifications with an issue or politician will undoubtedly come into play. As well, journalists themselves are seeking a successful career in media. In order to be successful, and stand out, they must cover stories that “make it onto the front page or get lots of airtime on the evening news” (Zaller 21-22). Those stories that get on the front page are those that appeal to the public. Thus, those journalists are mare most adept at appealing to...