Do no harm. This was the first tenet of journalism drilled into us during one of our MA lectures. It’s as simple as it sounds: when reporting the news, or a story, minimize the collateral damage and fallout caused by it, and make sure this story is in the public’s interest. Looking at the news cycle today, it’s no wonder that trust in journalism has declined over the last decade. Few, if any, stories are written purely with the public’s interest at heart.
In a media driven by money and ever-growing profits, the focus has become less about delivering factual stories and more about pandering to your partisan audience. Presenters like Tucker Carlson (FOX) and Rachel Madow (MSNBC) can’t even be held accountable for the “news” that they report because they’re classed as entertainers. Their opinions are presented as fact, but leave enough wiggle room for the networks to avoid the consequences of spreading misinformation. When Karen McDougal attempted to sue Tucker for his defamatory comments about her claimed affair with former President Trump, judge Mary Kay Viscolcil had this to say:
“Fox persuasively argues, that given Mr. Carlson’s reputation, any reasonable viewer ‘arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism’ about the statement he makes. Whether the Court frames Mr. Carlson’s statements as ‘exaggeration,’ ‘non-literal commentary,’ or simply bloviating for his audience, the conclusion remains the same — the statements are not actionable.”
Bear in mind that this judge was appointed by Donald Trump himself. Just saying.
If we allow a news network to parade their partisan opinions as facts, how can we ever trust anything that comes from them?
Covid and The News
Despite the general growing distrust in the media, COVID has marked an increase in trust towards news outlets. The BBC reports, “The Reuters Institute Digital News Report, conducted in January this year, found 36% of people in the UK “trust most news most of the time”. That figure is up from 28% in January 2020, before the pandemic began.” This trend continues across the majority of the 46 “media markets” that were surveyed.
Nic Newman, lead author of the report, said: “The focus on factual reporting during the Covid-19 crisis may have made the news seem more straightforward, while the story has also had the effect of squeezing out more partisan political news. This may be a temporary effect, but in almost all countries we see audiences placing a greater premium on accurate and reliable news sources.”
The media is more trustworthy when it’s perceived to be reporting facts. Who would have thunk? However, it boggles the mind that the UK’s trustworthiness did anything but nosedive straight down, given the mixed messages and farcical nature of their COVID response.
The US “Media Market”
Notably, the USA saw a further decrease in trust over that same period of time, contrasting with the other areas surveyed. In fact, from 2017 the trust rate has dropped from 38% to 29%, accompanied by a lack of interest in mainstream news outlets since Joe Biden’s inauguration. Why was this?
The report suggests that people no longer feel represented by the news, with those on the right-wing spectrum stating that the news did not represent their beliefs fairly. Black and Hispanic groups also noted media coverage to be unfair towards them, showing that this issue does not rest solely on one political side.
Conspiracy theories have proliferated in the US’s coverage of Coronavirus, ranging from it all being a hoax, to magnetic trackers being implanted with each vaccine. Allowing their pundits to say whatever they like under the guise of “news” or “alternative facts” has fractured political lines for a generation, sowing seeds of distrust between every citizen. Until we separate factual reporting from subjective opinion pieces, bad faith journalism will forever continue to harm.
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