An essay on objectivity
BBC News is a highly trusted organisation, considered by many to be an example of classic journalism which produces some of the most impartial reporting found in mainstream media (Prinzing, 2008; Christensen, 2004; BBC, 2004). This essay will argue, however, that television news as a genre can never be completely objective and that BBC News is no different. The following will show that despite the often extensive attempts made by journalists, editors and station controllers, the structure of television news means that, at times, it will inevitably produce subjective coverage. Objectivity is also detrimentally affected by commercial pressures and journalistic practices which, while not unchangeable, are unlikely to disappear in the foreseeable future. Therefore, this essay will argue that if television news can never be truly objective, the ideal situation should not be plurality within news reports but plurality of news providers. Within this framework, the following will show that by altering how news is represented and received, the Internet can make significant strides in providing people with more objective information.
When analysing television news this essay will focus on the UK and in particular the BBC. The internet, however, will be viewed as non-nation specific as this is one of its key characteristics . Section one will examine the impacts of commercialisation, journalistic practices and the television medium on television news and, by drawing on examples from BBC news, show how these hinder objectivity. Section two will look at the similarities and differences in the representation and reception of news on television and the Internet by analysing the coverage of BBC television news and the Now Public Website.
The essay concludes:
Television news can never be completely objective. Due to the time constraints of the medium journalists are required to select stories and sources from the infinite number of possibilities. This process is done in a subjective way based on the journalist judging the story and sources against a set of subjective news values. The analysis above has also shown the negative impacts of commercial pressures, concentration of ownership and public relations on objective reporting. These factors directly oppose McQuail’s definition of objectivity given in section 1.
Due to the different ways in which Internet news – with its potentially unlimited number of encoders and back regions -is constructed and because the Internet has no time constraints this medium allows for a more objective representation of news. This is the case when assessing news on the Internet as a whole rather than on specific websites and from the above analysis of the Now Public website it may be the case that if people rely on a single website to receive news then they will have a less objective view of news.
The effects of Internet news on mainstream media and public opinion are much more contested and with more people using the Internet and new websites being developed, its effects are constantly changing. The Internet has the potential to generate audiences much larger than television, yet this audience, for the most part, will be fragmented. Consequently, in the short-term the impact of Internet news will always be less than that of television unless there is a consensus portrayed over multiple websites or when mainstream media replicate stories developed on the web.
As a consequence of objectivity not being encoded in the same way on the Internet as in television news and because many of the reports are compiled by non-professional journalists, many people are less trusting of news reported on websites which are not representations of mainstream media outlets. Thus, people are more likely to take Hall’s (1980) negotiated or oppositional view of Internet news when compared to television news. Furthermore, in an attempt to make sense of the information they access on the Internet and put it in context people may turn back to traditional sources of media. The future effect that the Internet will have on news reception as opposed to its potential, therefore, is not clear.
The most recent statistics show that 60% of adults use the Internet daily (Office of National Statistics, 2007) and 65% of households have Internet access (Office of National Statistics, 2008). The trends for both these figures indicate that they are likely to increase while at the same time newspaper sales are declining (Guardian, 2008). These trends would seem to suggest that the Internet as a medium for communicating news will become of increasing importance. Accordingly, the model of Internet representation and reception of news outlined above may come under treat as ‘it would be naïve to assume that powerful conglomerates will not protect their own interests as they enter this new media market place’ (Jenkins, 2002, p.157). As Internet audiences increase it may be the case that a further corporatisation of the Internet takes place and with it an attempt to create a corporate back region, front region and encoding process similar to that of television news. It is also the case, however, that audiences now have ‘greater power and autonomy as they enter into the new knowledge culture’ (ibid, p.158). It is these conflicting positions which may dominate the contest of how news is represented and received in the future.