Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A confusion of terms

It was inevitable that there was going to be some reaction to the Blair speech on the media, not least because the media loves talking about itself – or, more precisely, telling itself how wonderful it is.

A sample of the reaction has been collated by the BBC and Channel 4 websites, with other newspapers, especially The Independent getting stuck in. But the prize for pomposity has to go to The Telegraph, which drones self-importantly in its leader:

We must declare an interest. The Telegraph Media Group, as well as publishing newspapers, has a substantial internet presence that provides news and comment 24 hours a day. Neither in the newspapers nor online is the distinction between these forms of journalism ever blurred. That is why many who do not endorse the conservative political stance of the newspapers choose nevertheless to read them. They know the news coverage is objective.
The worrying thing though, is that the leader-writer probably believed what he (I presume) wrote, in claiming that the news coverage is "objective".

One does not have to dwell too long on the philosophical aspects of this claim to know that there is no such animal as the "objective truth" and, from the short-term perspective of a daily newspaper, this would be impossible to achieve anyway, even if it was attainable (or even necessarily desirable).

But the fact is that bias comes not only from what is written, but what is left out. Selection bias, as it is called, is the most powerful of distorting prisms through which current affairs may be viewed – and it is present, in spades, in all news coverage. That alone destroys any pretence that a newspaper might have of being "objective".

It thus seems that The Telegraph might be confusing the term "objective" with "factual"– not that it always (or even often) achieves the latter. And if it doesn't know the difference between the two, then its standards have deteriorated even more than we thought.


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