Balanced Media Reporting and the Fake News Phenomenon


Just 20 months – that’s all it takes to badly damage the fabric of society and the news media. Today in the U.S. we have very polarized and ugly societal wars between the Left and the Right. That has in turn spawned very ugly and damaging wars between news media which continue to report in their long-established, traditional manner, and the media which has gone berserk towards the extreme right end of the political spectrum. The neutral media was always considered to be, ever so slightly, tilting to the left, and we all know that there is nothing that is absolutely neutral in this world. Everyone has an opinion, whether he or she voices it or not. We also know that when the silent majority does not voice its dissent on any matter, the country or the world is “in” for a major battle. When they do express their dissent, we can expect transformative change.

I have consistently followed both the “left” and the “right” media, to derive a real sense of where the world is heading. While many a time the neutral or “left-tilting” media is right, I have also seen instances when the “rightist” media gets it right for a change.

Achieving a balanced reporting stance is a hard thing to accomplish in today’s heavily polarized world. Couple of examples come to my mind: one is “BBC News” and the other is “CNN”. There are other excellent examples which I do follow such as “The NewYork Times” and “The Washington Post”, but sometimes they do take a harsh view of the right. I continue to enjoy their incisive analyses and opinion pieces, however. I also occasionally look at the “HuffPost” and “MSN News” – they are great alternatives, though clearly on the left.

On the right, my favourite is “Fox News” – there are rather interesting pieces of journalism that I read almost everyday, pretty captivating episodes, and well-intentioned, yet clearly manipulated headlines. There are many media channels on the right, of course, but I find more time for Fox News everyday.

I also follow two rather unconventional media diligently every day. These are “Aljazeera English” edition and “Russia Today (RT) News”. While Aljazeera is relatively new for me, RT News has been a staple for at least couple of years. I believe that both these “alternative media” provide a dose of reality as seen from their respective perches. I have seen wonderful and balanced coverage and analyses in both, and I am now of the firm opinion that the day is not complete without reading the headlines of both media.

I recently eliminated “The Hindu” and “The Guardian” apps from my iPhone – “The Hindu” being the oldest, yet running English language newspaper from South India and “The Guardian” from the U.K. I occasionally see their full web versions, and sometimes my research takes me to their archives. Nothing wrong with either one of their apps, however I felt they were a bit slow on news coverage and their analyses, and sometimes unnecessarily critical of the establishment.

From all of the above, you may come to the quick conclusion that I spend most of my morning hours reading these apps, looking for angles to write about in my blog! That is not true, my intent is to keep myself constantly updated on what is going on around the world, while uncovering some learning from the actions or inactions of global leaders.

With all this stuff, it unnerved me when I heard that some of what we read from global news media could be “fake” – what U.S. President Donald Trump has termed as “Fake News”. It has always been a possibility that some of what we hear could be wrong, or incorrect, but then responsible broadcast media make amends and apologize for any inadvertent errors on their part. That is pretty normal, because people do make mistakes.

But “Fake” news? Is that not a deliberate attempt to replace the correct news with deception to suit the political orientation of the media owners or editors? Yes, it is. But then who practices it? If you go by what Mr Trump says, almost all major news media – CNN, MSN, CBS, ABC, AP, and others who report on what he says, and what he does, are reporting “fake news” every day. Not that Americans are running away from these long-established broadcast media – most of them have grown up with these media, and they control the airwaves for the most part. It would be interesting to see the results of a survey which measures Americans’ responses to Trump’s fake news allegations.

Whatever it is, in my opinion the “fake news” phenomenon does not exist in the way it has been described. There is only one news, and most of us get it right every morning. Some of these could be incorrect, but that inaccuracy lasts only for a few hours before it is replaced with the correct content we should have seen.

There is a lot of satire by the U.S. late night shows on Trump, his tweets and his fake news. If the news as reported in the major news media is not as per his expectations, then that becomes fake news, and this “expectation” of Trump has smeared his presidential reputation to no end.

In a nutshell, we have to see both sides of the same coin. Balance is eventually achieved in our head because we are trained to see the right from the wrong. Our brains are hard-wired, and so sometimes we tend to fall on the side of the news that we really like to see. But then brain realizes its mistake and brings itself back to neutrality.

Enjoy your news via newspapers if you still get one. I get most of mine via the news apps, while still subscribing to The Straits Times which I never finish reading.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

2nd December 2017

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