Democrats & Liberals Archives

Fair AND Biased Coverage Sought

I want bias in news coverage. That doesn’t mean I want partisan spin filtered through some orthodoxy. But fairness is possible without cowering from any bias. Avoiding all bias fails to inform us.

News agencies’ proclivity to avoid bias is particularly annoying when covering stories which have not been in the headlines, until some recent event brings them to our attention.

When reading of stories involving foreign governments and resistance movements, invariably I want to know something about the evidence of the historic culpability of the various parties for violence and oppression. But what to me are the most obvious questions to ask, frequently go unanswered even in a multi-column article, I presume in the name of avoiding bias.

Sadly, I fear it is often pretty accurate to assume that there is a lot of culpability on all sides. The good and decent people of the foreign land are usually rendered powerless by the corrupt and powerful few, both in the government and in the resistance movements. But I also know there are some exceptions, and I think it is important to know about them. Unfortunately, the typical news story simply identifies the players, who is winning, and sometimes if we're lucky the putative ideology of the sides in question, though I know to take that with a grain of salt as well.

A classic example in yesterday's news is the story of the release of POWs by the Polisario Front independence movement for Western Sahara to the government of Morocco. I've long followed geography enough to have been aware that over two decades ago, Morocco annexed its southern neighbor Western Sahara, formerly controlled by Spain, in spite of a desire among some for independence. So I suspect that Morocco abused its power in annexing its southern neighbor. I also suspect that the Polisario Front's leaders have hardened into bellicose ideologues. Perhaps this news indicates some softening, though more likely it's just resignation to the impossibility of their cause. There is little that I can discern however from the ten paragraphs from Reuters which appeared in my local rag. U.S. mediators seem to have played a role in the release. Kofi Anan welcomed the release and hopes it presages better relations. The final paragraph is most telling:

Statements by Morocco and the Polisario Front showed that years of diplomatic mediation have not ended their mutual hostility.
But I still don't know what to believe about the various parties beyond my guesses going in. The second page of the article, which I found on-line, was only marginally more helpful, as it confined itself to the statements of the parties directly involved.

I went to O.T. Ford's Political Status of the States of the Earth, a document which I admire for its breadth, and which I trust based on the mission of its author. But one person can only do so much, and given the breadth of coverage all we learn of Morocco is:

The recent succession has had some liberalizing effects, but the state remains a traditional monarchy. ’Islāmists have made the most dramatic gains in elections for a consultative assembly. Ruled by محمد Muham:ad VI.
and he red codes the country, essentially giving it a failing grade for democratic governance. Ford's approach may be simplistic, not accounting for all the gray between extremes, but in a brief sentence about each nation, we get a greater sense of where it falls in representing its people than most news agency articles manage in multiple paragraphs.

Similarly, recent articles about the truce pact in tsunami ravaged Aceh province of Sumatra, Indonesia, are long on the dry facts and short on context. Once again, journalists fail us in the name of balance.

Posted by Walker Willingham at August 19, 2005 5:33 PM