@WE ARE SURROUNDED BY MEDIA@
Bias, culture and the news
The word bias itself is challenging to define. As a class, try creating a spider diagram around the word. You may be surprised how difficult this is, because the concept is rahter abstract for many students. Hopefully words such as ‘prejudice’ and ‘subjective’ begin to surround this key concept, but this is a good time for teachers to steer students towards a more sophisticated definition. What’s even more difficult, is the ability to identify examples of bias in practice. This is a skill, like any, that requires practice and routine. For this reason, it makes sense to work with headlines regularly. They are short, punchy and to the point.
What happens when students do not spot the bias? Their rating of the headlines may be very different from the other ratings that have been gathered on this website (see activity above). It is quite possible that students do not see biased language because they are biased towards the topic. They may come from a household where the leader of the labor party is always called a ‘red’ (communist allusion / use of metonymy). How do we discuss these prejudices openly in the classroom?
This is a good moment to come back to the concept of ‘context of interpretation’. It’s important to establish that we all read texts differently. Therefore it’s completely understandable if some students share the bias held by the headline. This is also a good moment to introduce the (TOK related) idea that no one can avoid bias entirely. It is difficult to be entirely neutral on any position, let alone express neutrality through language. This inability to exercise neutrality has a lot to do with our sense of cultural bias. The more we are exposed to various cultures, the more we are required to be sensitive to other cultures. Cultural awareness leads to a sharper ability to perceive bias.
This correlation between cultural values and bias is important to reading the headlines and consuming ‘the news’. If you familiar with the documentary Outfoxed by Robert Greenwald, you will recognize its relevance to this conversation on bias, culture and the media. Many European students are shocked by the documentary, as it portrays a behind the scenes look at Fox News in the United States and their blatant use of bias in their reporting of the news. Students are not always familiar with the right-wing culture in the United States, where religion and politics are mixed, war and patriotism go hand-in-hand and news anchormen are also vocal columnists (Bill O’Reilly). It is recommended to watch this documentary with students and have a discussion on bias, culture and the news. The dangers to avoid are stereotyping, a feeling of moral superiority and hasty generalizations. The guiding question for such a discussion may read ‘What’s the difference between the news we want to hear and the news we need to hear?’
Written Task 1 – You can write a letter of concern to a newspaper about an article that you find particularly biased. Confront the newspaper with examples that you have found in their text and ask them to address the issue of bias and balanced journalism in future writing.
Write between 500 – 600 words