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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Media Bias? Which news medium is NOT biased?

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Walski's note: Thanks to Howsy for the heads up (read this post of his - lots of good stuff related to the Bernama news report).

Image hosting by PhotobucketOf late, there has been a lot of talk about the media, mainstream , and non-mainstream media (including blogs). This morning, Bernama published a news report, in which Deputy Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi stated that "Alternative Media Should Refer To Mainstream Media". He was quoted as saying:

"What is happening now is that there are some mainstream media that pick up news from websites and blogs and other sources on the sidelines.

"Unfortunately most of the information are not based on sources that can be relied upon," he told reporters upon arriving at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport, here Tuesday evening

Go take a peek at Sensintrovert, for an analysis of accuracy in reporting vis-a-vis the Malaysian mainstream media. This gives one a damn good idea why the alternative media is becoming more prevalent. That, and the worldwide rising trend in citizen reporting, via blogging, and more recently, podcasting and video-podcasting.

The world over, there is less and less trust in the mainstream media. Not just in Malaysia. And this, perhaps, is something the Deputy Minister is either ignorant of, or has chosen to overlook.

Walski's opinion? The Malaysian mainstream media, in essence, has long lost its credibility in being able to be fair and objective in its reporting, historically only providing a more than obvious pro-Governmental slant in reporting public interest issues. More recently, it has been complicit in ignoring certain events, deemed unsavory to the Government (for example the petrol price-hike demonstrations, and related events). Which is understandable, since the media mainstream is owned by parties closely linked to the ruling Government.

The Printing Press Act also acts as a virtual guillotine, ever ready to drop on the mainstream news media outlets deemed to have gone overboard. And thus, self-censorship sets in. Report only as how you think the authorities would like something reported.

While the media of late has shown some signs of positive change, the many years of one-sided reporting has definitely taken its toll on their credibility. And credibility, once damaged, will take a long, long time to fix.

But Walski suspects that another possible reason for the Deputy Minister's statement, could be the declining circulation numbers of the print media, newspapers in particular, as reported by Rocky's Bru recently.

Another factor, perhaps, is the gullibility many Malaysians seem to exhibit. Of course, there are numerous exceptions, but in general, Malaysians' opinions are too easily swayed. That, coupled with the fact that Malaysians are known to not read enough. So, the slightest rumor is taken as fact, then propogated as fact. Really true or not is never questioned. And when these fabricated (and sometimes exaggerated) truths are met with contrary reporting in the press - rumors usually prevail. Another notch on the credibility tree.

The mainstream press, however, is not totally innocent. Repeat a lie enough times, and it tends to become the truth. And this principal seems to have been sometimes adopted by the mainstream media when reporting on things deemed sensitive. In trying to reclaim some semblance of credibility, the path sometimes resorted to results in further loss of credibility, especially when the real truth surfaces. Another notch on that tree.

And over time, enough notches causes the tree to fall.

Meanwhile, there is a foreboding feeling going around that a clampdown on unauthorized media sources, including citizen reporting, isn't too far off. Is the statement from the Deputy Minister a hint? Or is it just paranoia? Or both?

And it also doesn't help when the Minister himself has given ominous signs (as reported by Jeff Ooi's Screenshots).

One fact remains obvious, at least to Walski: every news medium has its own bias. Even in the most liberal of social environments. And while the press may claim to be free - to varying degrees, depending on one's definition of freedom - it is rarely free from bias. Nevermind whom, nevermind where.
(more pressing thoughts in the full post)

Based on this premise, Walski usually doesn't rely on one and only one view. Rather, take in as many varied views as there are, or as Walski can find, then digest the information gathered to arrive at some level of truth.

Many call Walski cynical for going throgh this route. But in this day and age, it takes a certain amount of healthy cynicism, and lots of salt (at least more than a grain), to maintain one's sanity. Or at least Walski's.

Never believe what you hear for the first time, until it can be verified - and that, my friends, is the safest way to thread through this life, because no source of information is free from bias.

In the end, it is the aggregation of information, processed through your God-given intelligence, that allows truth to surface. The real truth, the whole truth, and nothing but...