No such thing as an unbiased media

I am currently addicted to reruns of the ‘West Wing’, which has one of the best depictions of political PR and the media at work through the character of the press secretary CJ. One thing is clear when you watch the serial: communication and reporting by definition involves a bias. It’s impossible to separate the two.

Why am I pontificating on American soaps ahead of the weekend? Well last week saw some of the most open attacks on the media in recent times by political parties. Leading the charge is Arvind Kejriwal who alleged that there is a nexus between Mukesh Ambani and media organisations and he also alleged that certain sections of the media have been told to cut down coverage of AAP. Along with Kejriwal’s comments, the former Army Chief VK Singh’s “presstitudes” remark on Twitter has led to an outcry about the attack on alleged media biases.

I find this whole debate a bit academic as by nature the very act of reporting is biased. Show me a reporter who says that he or she is completely unbiased and I will show you a liar. At any given point a reporter’s personal history, perceptions and biases are at play guiding them organically towards what and how they write.

And the advent of social media ensures that these biases, whether allegedly for motivated agendas or not, will become even more pronounced. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook and of course the arrival of blogs in the last decade means that each of us is channelling the reporter.

And as the very nature of social media demands an instant quote and opinion generator – with the level of consumerisation of news – media is also being forced to take strong positions. Times Now’s News Hour is a case in point. There is little informed debate on the show, but plenty of opinions all around. And the unprecedented spectacle of a reporter- anchor who has the biggest, loudest opinion of all.

This is where media as a whole is becoming vulnerable and open to biases at a scale perhaps never seen before in the history of Indian media.

And yes, this is the point where media is open to the pitch which sells, rather than the pitch which is genuine news. This in turn has put great pressure on the PR business to come up with “news as entertainment”.

It is too late already to hope for neutrality of news and reporting. But the field is certainly wide open for creative shaping of news and views. Is this a good thing? No. Is it what has come to stay? Yes.

As a TV reporter, I was told to be conscious of the Heisenberg principle, which means the act of observing changes the observed.

What the social media has done to reporting is to keep the all seeing eye of observation always on.

Written by Paarul Chand

If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe for free to our weekly event and subscriber alerts.