The Lack of Media Objectivity During Elections in North America

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The Lack of Media Objectivity during Elections in North America

Hassan Adam Hosow

For a long period of time, the notion of freedom of the press has been regarded as an essential and fundamental element of a healthy democracy. The inherent importance of this notion in democratic societies lies in the thought of freedom of the press being the sole gateway to fair and reliable information. On one hand, this information enables the average citizens to make informed personal decisions, and on the other hand, it allows them to monitor the performance of their elected political decision-makers. In order to preserve this vital component of democratic theory, democratic countries such as the United States and Canada have enacted provisions in their constitutions to protect freedom of the press from limitations. A widely-held belief is that while the news media enjoy the constitutional rights to report any newsworthy story, the professional objectivity applied in the process of selecting and evaluating news materials is enough to bring media to a position of neutrality. Nevertheless, is it true that news media outlets always present fair, impartial and objective news coverage to the mass audience? Media scholars present a wide range of answers to this question. Scholars Stefano DellaVigna, Ethan Kaplan and Marsha Barber reveal the existence of persistent bias in news media’s coverage of major events such as electoral competitions, whereas Dave D’alessio and Mike Allen claim that the vast majority of news media maintain impartiality, fairness and objectivity in the coverage of election campaigns. An analysis of the corporate nature of news media, editorial policies, and subjective criteria for newsworthiness proves not only the existence of media bias in coverage of election campaigns but also the impact that media bias has on voter intents. Despite news media’s self-presentation as the source of impartial, objective and fair news, the undeniable truth is that most privately-owned news media entities are profit-based firms with specific self-interests. In spite of their claim that most news media outlets are generally objective, D’alessio and Allen admit the potential conflict of interest between news media as a source of unbiased information and the corporate demands of news media as a profit-based industry (133). In their article “Media Bias in Presidential Elections: A Meta-Analysis,” D’alessio and Allen acknowledge that, “a large number of biases… derive from the nature of America’s media as businesses operating in a competitive economic marketplace. These biases include a pro-capitalist, anti-communist bias, a minimal bias, and nationalistic biases” (133). However, D’allesio and Allen believe that most of these biases are invisible, insignificant and of little concern to a large number of readers and viewers (134). In contrast, Ascension Andina-Diaz‘s article “Media Bias and Electoral Competition,” provides empirical evidence in an effort to prove the idea that news media owners slant their election coverage in order to influence political outcomes ( 211-213). What this means is that the business-oriented nature of privately-owned news media undermines their professional objectivity and even-handedness because profit and self-interest are considered inseparable blood brothers. Therefore, profit-maximization goals lead news media to use their power to mould public opinion in order to help favorite candidates win. The wide academic debate about the causes and consequences of news media bias also looks into the role of editorial policies and perspectives as a major cause of the loss of journalistic objectivity during elections. Most of the new media outlets have political orientations that hurt the journalist objectivity needed to present fair and impartial news coverage...
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