THE ELECTORAL MEDIA BIAS COMMISSION
This is an idea for a commission that could be set up in any country when elections are being held. Anywhere in the World. The USA and the UK have seen a need for such a commission. It would run in the lead up to an election. It would have powers to fine media outlets that report factual errors as fact. And to ensure that misreporting does not happen again. Or they face bigger fines. The panel to be independent media experts and experts in the law.
There are three types of errors that the Press make during a campaign. There are errors of fact. This could be an error or could be a lie. The second type of error is where one side is given all the coverage. They have no need to lie as they just deal with one side of a campaign (or issue). The third error is where there is no error in fact but the media outlet campaigns for the one side and stories are twisted. This can become the reporting of inaccuracies when candidates who are intelligent are made out to be fools. At present there is a great need for a commission to be set up in the U.K. The campaign of Jeremy Corbyn has met with all three types of errors in media reporting. I trust Jeremy Corbyn but most of the Media seems biased against him. When factual inaccuracies have been shown to a media outlet they often repeat the error. I presume that there will be some kind of investigation into Press reporting if Jeremy Corbyn gets elected. I would totally understand that. My main idea though is for a commission to work in the run up to an election. I think probably that it could only deal with errors of the first two kinds. It would be hard to deal with the “campaigning for the one side” type of error. I think if such a commission where set up and worked it would encourage other countries to do the same. This is an important human right-knowing the truth about political candidates.
People I know believe in Press reports about Jeremy Corbyn that are false (and have been shown to be false) but they have not seen any other reporting. Many people I know will not vote for Jeremy Corbyn because of the Press’s biased reporting.
If such a commission where set up and worked it could possibly lead to other areas of checking on the Press with regard to reporting of e.g. human rights issues like Palestine.
I have to follow independent investigative Journalists and Media Bias sites on Twitter to get any idea of what is happening in the World. I trust no mainstream media outlet.
Below is a set up I used with Amnesty youth groups in the last School I worked in. Young people need to know about media bias. This worked so well I made a Peace Treaty audience participation play out of the ideas used. I wrote the piece below at the time of the second Intifada and it does not try to be pro one side or another. (Although I personally am pro-Palestinian).
Amnesty Youth Group, Media Bias exercise
I have made up the following “facts”. Even facts, of course, can lie when taken out of context. Each group will use these facts to write up a report (or a Radio broadcast) which is written from one of three viewpoints.
- You are an Israeli reporter who writes for a Zionist magazine.
- You are a community activist who writes for a Palestinian journal.
- You are a Peace activist who is trying to show hope for the future and is trying to defuse the tension. Do not use inflammatory adjectives and try to show what the two sides have in common. Do not talk only about violence.
May 5th. Israel reports that it is arresting suspected Islamic militants. Some Children are killed in the raids into a refugee camp. Two Palestinian gunmen are killed. Israel claims the raids are necessary to foil a possible future terrorist attack.
May 9th One of the suspected militants dies during questioning.
May 12th. A report is issued which shows that 20% of young people in the refugee camp are infested with intestinal worms from having sewage in the locale. 50% of those children do not have access to a proper education. Unemployment rates are three times the national average.
May 20th A suicide bomber kills himself and ten people (two of whom are soldiers) on a bus. All the victims are Jewish. Three victims are young children.
May 25th. A peace conference is cancelled because of claim and counter claim of alleged violent activities by both sides in the dispute.
May 26th. Israeli bulldozers destroy four homes of people who are related to the bomber.
When writing up the report you should use inflammatory adjectives – if a reporter from group 1 or 2. You can lie, take things out of context, and demonise. You do not need to mention all the above details. Inflammatory reports are best based around a few inflammatory adjectives and phrases (“it was a massacre”, terrorist, extremist, bloodthirsty, murderer etc). Deal only with the “faults” of the “other side”. Try to gain empathy from your reader/listener by mentioning things you both have in common, and dealing at length with the strange beliefs and culture of the “other” side.
Most people interested in Human Rights believe that the Palestinian’s suffer greatly from Israeli actions. But in this piece we are only dealing with the “Facts” I have outlined. It helps to know a little about the subject before you talk about it. However, sometimes our knowledge of events around the world comes from journalists with little knowledge of the history that is involved themselves. Indeed, they may also be under pressure from their newspaper or from pressure groups to Bias the story in a certain way.
Someone taking violent action will usually claim that they are taking it in response to the violent actions of another i.e. they are only defending themselves. This topic is dealt with at great length in the excellent book, More Bad News from Israel (Greg Philo and Mike Berry, Pluto Press, 2011).
The four “Truths”
[This is something I wrote for myself – at first – to answer the question, “Why do so many people who have lived through war, hold alternate views of what happened?” It is perhaps something for those involved in my Peace Treaty play to consider.]
In every conflict there are at least four “Truths”
The first two are the truths as seen by all of the combatants and their supporters. There may of course be more than two groups involved in the conflict (in that case five or six truths). In addition, groups may change sides or direction throughout the conflict.
Thirdly, there are the “Independent” observers who may be more or less Independent. They are not from the conflict zone but may be under the protection or territory of one group and may only see events from their side. They may have their own prejudices or racism inside them when they go to the war zone. Even if they try hard to be impartial they may be unable to travel to see what is happening in other parts of the war zone. Journalists are occasionally sent out with troops of one side and even without threats from the troops (which does happen) may feel the need to give only that side’s view of the situation. Of course they quite literally do only see one side of the conflict.
Fourthly, of course, there is also the truth that really happened. That truth can be unbelievably hard to find out. Historians years later with documentary evidence, witnesses, and grave sites to examine, still argue between themselves about battles within living memory.
So after conflicts, people from the losing side will often have very strong views that their “truth” was the real truth and was accurate. They may be right. Sometimes however groups have access to the personal testimonies of friends and remember isolated incidents of violence against their group, and they argue very strongly that their view of truth is the correct view: and they can be mostly wrong. They may not be lying or trying to be biased. They may only have ever seen one truth. Their version of truth may relate to one particular time and one tiny geographical area. And after conflicts, interested groups try to give out their own view of the truth e.g. via the internet, meetings, and books.
Sometimes in countries where the Government has control over all the media, people may have only the Government’s view of the truth to look at or consider.
To consider one case. In Rwanda in 1994, there are claims that there were large scale atrocities committed by the mainly Tutsi army (the Rwandan Patriotic Front). Those listening to the local Radio (Tutsi and Hutu) at that time would have heard a view that was (most people now believe) extremely biased and exaggerated against the RPF. So there are survivors of what happened in 1994 that saw bad things being done by the RPF to their friends and who listened diligently to the biased Radio reports and believed that similar things happened to everyone on their side. After the physical war the losing side has fought an information war trying to convince Rwandans and the world that their truth was right. They have support groups and witness testimonies and internet articles.
So how do Rwandans know who to trust? My opinion is that they must look to independent human rights bodies like Pen International. And to the writings of the U.N. commander on the ground who lived through the conflict (Brigadier-General Dallaire). These are as unbiased as you can get. No human rights group or truly independent international witness has denied the genocide of moderate Hutus and Tutsis by Hutus in 1994. But still many Rwandans do. They ask for Justice and believe strongly they are right.
In many countries aggrieved groups’ desire for their view of Justice leads to further conflict. For they are speaking the “truth”. Well, sort of.
Another thing that can make someone biased towards the losing side-when their side have been mainly responsible for war crimes-is that the person whose view we are considering was pressured into seeing things the way others around them saw it. People can be so influenced by figures around them so that they remember things differently from what really happened. Also, if people all around you all have a certain perspective you would be very strong willed and brave to hold an alternative view. Pressure to conform can be so strong in isolated communities after wars that it results in bullying and death threats.
This is the introduction to my Peace Treaty Play.
Looking for The Truth
[One male actor and one female actor who change costume on stage in front of the audience]
Dr. James [woman]: Good Evening. I am Dr. James. As a high flying Dentist I know all there is to know about the Tooth. The Tooth is white, and hard, and… Oh, the Truth! Sorry. Bit of a misunderstanding. I thought I was to speak about the Tooth. I studied the Tooth for seven years. Never attended any lectures on the Truth. However, in my opinion, the truth is, that you must always eat lots of fruit and visit your Dentist regularly. Or you will have a decayed truth, Oops. I mean Tooth!
Fast Eddy: Hi. I’m Fast Eddy. I’m a cynical, tough journalist. The Truth is something that I have to interpret for the readership of the Newspaper that I work for. I have a rough idea of what my editor expects me to write, so I may need to nudge the Truth in a certain direction. And I try to tell stories that invigorate the news and make it easy to see who are the bad guys and who are the victims. People reading the news don’t have the time or the background knowledge necessary to digest all the material that I sift through. But things are easy if I am dealing with an African war of course. It’s always the same scenario. It’s always just a case of, “two tribes who are untouched by civilisation carrying on with an ages old ethnic war”. There, that’s easy to understand.
Denise: Hello. I am Denise. The only truth I know is that I love George. Love him truly, for ever and ever. Till the seas dry up and stars fall from the sky. Or, until he meets another woman who is prettier than me. Unlikely though that is!
Arthur Schopenhauer: My name is Arthur Schopenhauer. I am a bad tempered European philosopher who sees pain and misery suffused throughout all existence. For me, Truth has to pass through the stages of ridicule, and then violent opposition, before it is finally accepted as being self-evident.
Svetambara Jain Nun: As a Jain Nun, I perceive reality as being multi faceted. This knowledge is a tool for me in my attempts to live a life without violence: if no one can claim to know the ultimate Truth, why then should we quarrel about differences of opinion? Words cannot express ultimate Truth.
Alfred Adler: Hi folks. I am Alfred Adler. I am, or rather was, an Austrian Psychologist who believes that, we are not blessed with the possession of absolute truth; on that account we are compelled to form theories for ourselves about our future, about the results of our actions, etc.
Female Lay Buddhist: I am a Buddhist and I believe that our understanding of the Truth is dependant upon the state of our Mind. If my Mind is tainted by Ignorance and under the control of Desire, then I cannot see things as they really are. Logic is not enough; I have to first free my Mind before I can attempt to understand reality. The Truth can even be used inappropriately. For instance, if I tell someone who has a big nose that they have a big nose, and I tell them this once a day: then it’s not useful, it’s an insult.
Mohandas K. Gandhi: I am Mohandas K. Gandhi. I believe that, truth resides in every human heart, and one has to search for it there, and to be guided by truth as one sees it. But no one has a right to coerce others to act according to his own view of truth.