As the fourth estate within an democratic society, the media, or more specifically news media, serves the role of providers of information to the masses and are required to keep watch on the other estates of society such as government, religious institutions and the upper or ruling classes – by holding them accountable and being critically in their analysis of those societal institutions. As such, the media is expected to always be un-biased and present all sides of an issue or event to the viewing public, so we the audience may form our own opinion.
However, as we all know, this is rarely the case. The media as we know it today, is a collection of companies and corporations, many of which spanning several countries and including sub companies, sister groups and shareholders. Therefore many news groups within the media have their own agendas or shared interests, which reflects on the content they produce or topical stances they choose to cover a story from – inevitably portraying a specific side of a story to the public, which we then decipher and form the basis of our own opinion. As such, we can see how media groups may choose to portray a ‘preferred meaning‘ of something to us and exclude something which may be in opposition to their own shared interests. By choosing not to cover a story the media is therefore removing it from the shared consciousness of the viewing public. In addition, as educators and outlets of information to the public, news media may choose to put a specific slant or perspective on a story – thereby affecting the opinion of the viewing public.
In order to see this biased approach to content in the media today, we will look at a recent news story and analyise it further.
RTE News coverage of Occupy Dame Street camp removal
In early March 2012, the Irish protest group Occupy Dame Street had been an active protest group camping on Dublin’s financial street, Dame Street, since October 2011. At 3am in the morning on March 8th 2011, over a hundred an Garda Síochána moved on the peaceful protest camp – forcefully removing protestors, confiscating equipment and personal belongings, and demolishing the camps tents and shacks. For the best part of the camps presence on Dame Street, much of Irish news had rarely featured the protest in news broadcasts – evidently choosing not to do so. By choosing not to cover the progress or events on Dame Street during the protest, public awareness of the protest was kept at a minimum – often resulting in the physical camp becoming an public nuisance and eyesore, alien and removed from the public.
As with the camps foundation months earlier, the removal of the camp demanded news coverage. The physical absence of the camp from the viewing public had made it news-worthy and something which must be addressed to audiences.
RTE (Raidió Teilifís Éireann), Irelands main semi-state public service provider, carefully balanced the coverage of this story by providing the opinions of those in favor of the camps removal and those who were against it. However, as we can see when we analysise RTE’s coverage – more coverage, content and airtime was given over to argue in favor of the camps removal. Much of this was presented to us as an un-biased story, seeing both sides of the story – but also incorporating specific keywords (Such as ‘health & safety fears‘) and language (Such as ‘necessary‘, ‘clean-up‘ and ‘welcomed‘) to highlight why this extreme action was needed, and should be condoned by the public.
Click on the link below to view RTE video broadcasts covering the removal of the Occupy Dame Street camp news story. Once there, scroll down and click on the third video thumbnail found beneath the main video window to view the video used in this article.
Click link below:
In this story, we see the use of footage showing us council trucks clearing heaps of debris – no where do we see the original standing tents and structures prior to to their demolition. Therefore, together with language such as ‘clean-up‘ and ‘health & safety risk‘ being used, we are given the suggestion that this site was a mess and a public danger which needed to be cleaned up for the good of public safety.
Both party perspective
This report presents us with two interviews, one from participating protestors criticizing what has happened, and the other from a local restaurant owner blaming the Occupy Dame Street camp for the decline in his establishments customer numbers. The story introduces this second interview with a claim that local retailers welcome the removal of the camp and that customer takings are up 20% thanks to the absence of the camp from the street. This unfairly places the blame of customer decline on the camp and does not attempt to look at other possible reasons for decline. As the retailer interviewed also mentions a loss in employees over the period of the camp, we are also suggested that this protest was putting people out of jobs and therefore harmful to the countries economy at a time when jobs are hard to find. Also, by adding after the interviews that the protestors will continue to hold meetings and stage further protests on the site, paired with footage of protestors shouting, chanting and speaking on microphones – we get the sense that this group intends to continue to be an irritance to the public and make noise. It may also be pointed out that both interviews contrast in appearance quite differently. While the protestors (and footage of protestors prior to the interview) are seen in a very dark light, with lots of noise and activity – the retailer (and filler footage shown prior to it) are quite bright, colourful and peaceful. This more positive footage begins after the dark, negative-looking footage, with the words ‘After this mornings clean up…” – suggesting to us that it was the camp that was making the street look dark and depessing, while its removal has resulted in its improvement.
Current situation of news story
The last segment of the story consists of a reporter reporting from Dublin’s Pearse Street where she describes earlier events which took place that evening, where protestors moved to the street to protest in complaint to the camps removal. The reporter tells us that the protestors had ‘minor scuffles‘ with Gardai and that they caused ‘distruption to traffic‘. This paired with the close-up images of protestor groups filling camera shots (Which suggest large crowds of protestors to us – even if that may not be the case), shouting and chanting protestors, and a close-up image of Gardai struggling with something – suggest to us that this group of protestors on Pearse Street were very large in number, angry to the point of physically encountering peaceful Gardai, and a physical hinderance to the peaceful public around them.
In addition, the reporter uses language such as ‘minor injuries‘, ‘minor scuffles‘, and that the camp was ‘dismantled‘ rather than demolished or destroyed – so as to play down the protestors claims and right to be angry. She also goes on to suggest that Gardai were willing to give the protestors their belongings back so as they returned later peacefully, but that the protestors rejected this and wanted their belongings back ‘immediately‘. This suggests the idea that the protestors were unwilling to come to an agreement with the peaceful Gardai and that they were overreacting to what the Gardai had done.
Example of biased reporting (In favor of protestors)
Click on the link below to see an example of the same news story, also covering the Occupy Dame Street camp removal, by Irish news agency IrishTimes.com. However this time covering it entirely from the perspective of the camps supporters and Occupy Dame Street participants: