Bias and Framing: The Hidden Messages in Our News

Assignment: Media Analysis

2. Comparative analysis of political coverage

Using sources from the above list, compare coverage of a single politics-related issue or event between EITHER a) reports in two different news mediums (television, radio, newspaper) OR b) two reports in differing examples of the same medium (e.g. One News and 3 News etc). Describe critically how politics is presented in each case, with particular attention to how the content is framed, distinguishing between an issue frame and a game frame, and between positive and negative framing. Comment briefly on the possible influences on, and effects of, this framing.

I will be analysing and comparing coverage of a politics-related issue in ‘Morning Report’ 8-9am and ‘One News’ at 6pm, both on April 10th, 2014. In particular, I will be exploring the different frames used to report on the political topic of the Labour-Green coalition. The bones of the issue being covered on both mediums is the event of Labour refusing to campaign on a platform promising a Labour-Greens government.’[1] By analysing what the differing accounts of a single story include, or omit in their coverage, it is possible to see how they want us, their audience to see things through their framing of a given issue.

Radio New Zealand (RNZ), which runs the ‘Morning Report’ show, is a state-funded charter programme, with a statutory requirement to report quantitative and qualitative results against designated Charter obligations. 40% of their listeners are older than 65, and they have an average weekly cumulative audience of 355,000, as of 2013.[2] TV One, on the other hand is a commercial, foreign owned programme aimed at 25-54 year olds. In 2011, One News had an average of 700,000 viewers a night.

Due to the 24 hour news cycle, political events are under greater scrutiny than ever, and journalists cash in on any failure of politicians to reply eloquently, as is now expected from them.[3] ‘One News’ Corin Dann’s interview with David Parker’s interview emulated this, as when Parker went back on his own statement that “It’s a decision that we took as a leadership group” his flustered attempts at backtracking; (“That’s not what I said at all,” when it was) it severely contrasted the quick and seemingly rehearsed responses of other politicians interviewed. The ‘One News’ Political Editor exposed him as unknowledgeable in the close-up interview, as well as plain awkward with his stuttering and nervous demeanour – a big no-no in the tabloidized news of today. His failure to produce an on-the-spot speech was a failure of his party’s media management, as well as a result of pressure to address issues raised then and there.[4]

As Chapter 7 of the Textbook explains, ‘Agenda Setting’ is how the media dictates what people think about, by what their news team decides constitutes ‘news’. Going one step further, ‘Priming’ is an outcome of this, as by giving extra salience to a particular aspect of a story the media can enhance the likelihood of citizen participation and interest in the issue. RNZ sets an agenda of a topic related to a Labour-Green coalition – open cast coal mining. Audio from Parliament allows us to hear National MP Simon Bridges claiming Norman directly allowed the mining, despite never being a Minister in the former Labour government that allowed this to happen. Ousted by Turei as making ‘blatant lies,’ this is followed up the ‘Morning Report’ presenter Jane Patterson’s description of John Key as also employing this ‘tactic,’[5]  when Key claims mining permits were issued by a ‘Labour-Green government’. Not only is this Agenda Setting and Priming by Radio New Zealand in bringing up coal mining, but also in fostering public disillusionment and distrust with politicians, particularly National Party members in this case.[6]

TV One frames Greens as being underdogs; with an anchor saying in the beginning, that Greens ‘aren’t taking Labour’s rejection lying down’. This is also visually connoted, as the opening scene of the story is a screen behind the news anchor featuring Green co-leader Russell Norman in front of Labour leader Cunliffe, implying the story is more focused on him and his party’s plight than anyone else’s. Strengthening this angle even more is the selection of Norman’s quote; “If we’re polling 15% it’ll be impossible for Labour to cut us out.” This conveyance of the smaller Green party as hard done by did not happen by chance, as TV stories are carefully manufactured through many technical codes[7]. People love an underdog, or ‘human interest’ element to a story, and when policies are put aside, as they largely are in this political coverage, it gives them someone to root for.[8]

Interestingly, ‘Morning Report’ doesn’t bother to get the Greens point of view, focusing much more on Labour’s side of things. All the Green co-leaders Norman and Metiria say, is that other politicians are making things up; an example of ‘simple-minded moralising,’ that Atkinson claims is a key feature of the political interview.[9]RNZ speaks for them, but gets Cunliffe’s opinion firsthand. The contrast between the two shows is that One News provides a broad, but ultimately shallow story with a total of 6 politicians from 4 different parties interviewed, while Morning Report has one longer interview with Labour Party leader David Cunliffe, and short sound bytes from 3 other leaders – relying mainly on statements of presenters to explain the situation rather than primary sources. This quantitative analysis of politician’s statements raises the question of whether it is better for audiences to get a broad, albeit superficial picture of a political event, or in-depth knowledge of one aspect of an issue?[10]

McJournalism’, a fast-food metaphor implying a commercialised and devalued product, was found to be present in One News by analyst Daniel Cook, manifested in an increase of ‘visual story-telling at the expense of policy substance, the displacement of sourced statements by bald journalist assertions, compressed into a pacier, more exciting, yet watered down bulletin.’[11] Instead of providing bare facts to a presumed intelligent audience, implicit connections are made, requiring little to no intellectual engagement by the viewer. [12]This goes beyond merely priming and deciding what the audience thinks about, to how they view a given issue, by taking a particular stance on a story and conveying it as fact. ‘One News’ does this quite obviously at the end of their bulletin, with the rhetorical question; “Will that be enough to keep the Greens happy?” (in response to Cunliffe’s assertion there is a ‘high probability’ of the two parties working together). Accompanying this question is footage of Norman walking away from a meeting with Cunliffe, implying that no, it will not. It is definitely no coincidence that these audio and visual materials were combined, and as is so often the case with televised news, this is a ‘closed text’ where a particular reading is favoured.

One News uses a ‘game frame’ for this political story, as an image of unrest within the Labour party is hinted at by the statement ‘the decision to reject the Greens coalition proposal wasn’t one signed off by the Labour caucus’ and Parker’s avoidance questions. In elections, it is very important for a Party to portray an image of cohesiveness, and politicians’ statements are often very similar to their co-Party members in line with this.

Contrastingly, ‘Morning Report’ frames its version of events more thematically.[13] In reference to the upcoming elections, it emphasises National’s strategies in exploiting ‘cracks in the relationship between Labour and the Greens’ in order to win. It cites the challenge for Labour as protecting ‘their own vote while presenting the image of two parties who could work successfully in government.’ Extensive statements and quotes from Cunliffe are interspersed throughout, far more than any other leader is allocated in the 3 minute bulletin. This allusion to upcoming election campaign strategies of parties is in line with its TVNZ Charter obligations of ‘informing, entertaining and educating’[14], and making the upcoming election a salient issue in listener’s minds by making some aspects of reality more noticeable to promote a particular evaluation[15]. However, it bypassed its opportunity to get a well-rounded story involving first-hand interviews with the Greens. Although the Greens are central to the issue being covered, they are largely presented as a weaker party who may tarnish Labour’s image.

Although the consistent ‘package’ of news that TV One provides its regular viewers each night may be financially rewarding as more viewers consistently tune into the 6’oclock news,  Journalism critic Bob Franklin says, the McDonaldisation of news means that “quantity and standardisation replace quality and variety as indicators of value.”[16] Audience retention, rather than providing gritty, hard-hitting content is paramount in One News, accounted for by its commercial ownership. Atkinson suggests that a less commercially focused news bulletin would aim to promote the public good instead of satisfying shallow wishes of self-absorbed persons. [17]

There is a lot of mud-slinging between politicians in Parliament covered in ‘Morning Report’. This gives salience to the ‘Strategy Frame’ of politics, and the idea that no politicians get along with or respect those from other parties. Policies aside, it appears they’re all trying to bring up scandals that will bring down the opposition in order to gain power for their own party, even when it is groundless claims. [18]

Deregulation of TV One was retaliation against excessive charter regulations. Now, at the other end of the spectrum, ‘letting the market prevail’ has become a recipe for more entertainment-oriented story-telling. Commercial media limits potentially divisive topics like politics, war or religion in favour of more universally popular human interest stories.[19] Joe Atkinson’s article suggests that “left to its own devices the market will not deliver certain kinds of programming, where public broadcasting is limited to providing those non-commercial programmes the market cannot or will not provide.” [20]What makes something ‘newsworthy’ for these big businesses, is something many people, of all sectors in society can react in common to, for example outrage against politicians lies and shortcomings, which are covered in both mediums.

The media is meant to be an unbiased third party, but are they more interested in providing entertainment and making money than reflecting the ‘true reality and diversity of New Zealand life’[21]? Does TV inhibit meaningful issue engagement,[22] or make public debate assessable and accessible to audiences? On the other hand, could it be that even the supposedly neutral Radio New Zealand National is subject to bias? In creating a news story, editors and journalists will look for certain things, and in doing so will select different facts that strengthen the point they are trying to make, or what they perceive to be interesting. These two differing versions of events on ‘Morning Report’ and ‘One News’; complete with totally different quotes from politicians involved to suit their own agenda show us it is important to source our news from a wide variety of topics, especially on something as important as politics in an election year.

 

[1] Radio New Zealand National – Morning Report 8-9am – 10/04/2014

[2] http://www.radionz.co.nz/about/audience-research

[3] Geoffrey Craig, Chapter 6, Politics and the Media, 86 – 87

[4] Chris Rudd, Chapter 7, Politics and the Media, 100-101

[5]‘ Morning Report’ Parliamentary Chief Reporter Jane Patterson

[6] Chris Rudd, Politics and the Media Textbook, Chapter 7, 96-97

[7] Geoff Kemp, Reading the Media handout

[8] Chris Rudd, Politics and the Media Textbook, Chapter 7, 98

[9]Joe Atkinson, Politics and the Media Textbook, Chapter 15, 220

[10]Chris Rudd, Politics and the Media Textbook, Chapter 11, Page 154

[11] Joe Atkinson, Television, Chapter 9, Page 144 (Daniel Cook, 2002)

[12]Joe Atkinson, Television, 144

[13] Chris Rudd, Politics and the Media Textbook, Chapter 7, Page 98-99

[14] Retrieving public service broadcasting: treading a fine line at TVNZ – Margie Comrie and Susan Fountaine

[15] Chris Rudd, Politics and the Media Textbook, Chapter 7, 97

[16] Joe Atkinson, Television, Chapter 9, 139 (Franklin, 2003, p 2)

[17] Joe Atkinson, Television, Chapter 9, 143

[18]Chris Rudd, Politics and the Media Textbook, Chapter 7, 100

[19] Joe Atkinson, Televison, Chapter 9, 141

[20] Margie Comrie and Susan Fountaine, Retrieving public service broadcasting: treading a fine line at TVNZ, 115

[21] Margie Comrie and Susan Fountaine, Retrieving public service broadcasting: treading a fine line at TVNZ, Page 101

[22] Joe Atkinson, Television, Chapter 9, 157

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