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Media and media bias. 23 October 2013. Media and democracy. Citizens need accurate information about politics and state of country Difficult for politicians to speak directly to citizens and deliver accurate information Media supplies accuracy and provides attractive format
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Media and media bias 23 October 2013
Media and democracy • Citizens need accurate information about politics and state of country • Difficult for politicians to speak directly to citizens and deliver accurate information • Media supplies accuracy and provides attractive format • But two problems • Lack of information • Misinformation • Can media solve these problems
Rational ignorance • Few benefits to becoming well-informed about politics • Your vote does not change election result • Costs to studying politics • Most people know very little about politics • Knowledge tests • Does it matter? • Heuristics – simple rules for making political decisions • Miracle of aggregation – uninformed cancel out
Knowledge questions Hard News • Angela Merkel holds what position? • In Thailand, the “red shirts” are: • The Copenhagen Summit refers to: • Identify the UN Secretary General Soft News • The 2010 World Exposition is taking place in: • Tiger Woods recently took a break from the world tour. Why? • Who was voted best actress at the last Academy Awards? • What team does Sidney Crosby play for?
Which is worse: lack of information or misinformation? • Misperceptions common about political issues (eg, vaccines) • Not always responsive to information (eg, Obama is a Muslim) • Source of misinformation is both politicians and grassroots • Misperceptions tend to persist – hard to eradicate • Knowledgeable people are not better off: better information but also stronger filters
Motivated reasoning • People believe what they want to believe • Selective exposure: people seek out information consistent with their world view and avoid contradictory information • Confirmation bias: people accept claims that reinforce their world view and reject claims that undermine their world view • These biases stronger among more sophisticated
Is internet the problem: Ideological segregation • Do people only view/read sources they agree with? • Worry that with expansion of TV channels, internet people will segregate themselves • Isolation index: average conservative’s exposure – average liberal’s exposure • Ranges from 0 (both sides read same thing) to 100 (each side reads something different) • TV news best, internet okay, ordinary life the worst • Why? • Still many popular, moderate sources versus small market for extremes • People prefer news that is timely, well-written, and entertaining – takes a lot of resources to produce and thus tries to appeal to wide audience • People browse, gather news from multiple sources • Compare real-life: do you have friends with very political different views
Conspiracy theories • Conspiracy theory = false theory or belief which ascribes excess malevolent intentionality and exaggerated power • Past examples: Elders of Zion, Freemasons, Pope, UFOs • Present examples: vaccines, 9/11 • Why? • We tend to anthropomorphize – see human intent readily • Fundamental attribution error – attribute outcome to personality rather than context • Who believes them? • Those with lack of trust, insecure employment, anomie • Can media stop them?
What is bias? • Can media help solve these problems or is it the cause? • Can we say what biased reporting looks like? • Even pure sequence of facts not necessarily unbiased • Arrangement creates story, emotion, argument • Maybe at best we can say that bias = reporting similar to other ideological actors • Uses same words, emphases, sources as political actors
Rise of objectivity norm • Non-partisan reporting emerges as commercial product • High fixed costs to producing news (early 20th c.) • Need to attract more readers • Therefore stop presenting partisan news • Also, rise of mass advertising: advertisers prefer to negotiate with one newspaper not five • But politicians can manipulate this standard • “He said, she said” – can supply false information
Where does bias come from? • Desires of ownership (typically families or government) • May sacrifice profits for ideology • But “need to reach in order to teach” • Do journalists want to follow political line? • Need to make a profit • Who is your audience? What do they want? • Who buys products from advertisers? • What do viewers want? • Study of coverage of human rights violations in US less common for allies • Desires of audience or government interference?
Political views of journalists • Many studies of political beliefs, vote choices, and campaign contributions of journalists • In US and Western Europe, typically find that leftist – socially liberal • Why? • Typical of educated, urban professionals • What are political beliefs of Czech journalists? • Does it matter?
Some attempts to measure bias (slant) • Which words/phrases most associated with left and right-wing politicians? • To what extent do newspapers use the same words/phrases? • Typical US newspaper close to moderate Democrat • This is same as ideology of typical reader • Amount of coverage devoted to particular issues • But what is the right amount?
Can public broadcasting improve knowledge? • Private media subject to market forces • Focus on entertaining, exciting, sexy • Public broadcasters may be immune to market • Can focus on politically important information • But does it do so?
“Auntie knows best” • Comparison of knowledge of citizens who watch public and private broadcasting • Viewers of public broadcasting are better informed • But only where public broadcaster • Receives generous funding – immune from market • With no strings attached – immune from political influence • But direction of causality? • Knowledgeable people watch public broadcasting
Who owns the media? • Typically families and government (little broad ownership) • Around world, government owns 27% of newspapers and 60% of TV • More common in poor and authoritarian countries • Especially high in Africa and Middle East • Government ownership correlated with: • Journalists in prison, corruption • Lack of citizen rights, lack of government effectiveness • Worse education, apathy • Newspapers more important than TV • Be careful of direction of causality
Hard news versus soft news • Which is bigger problem: ideological bias or lack of content? • Educational and serious = boring • Ways to make news more interesting
Issue attention cycles • Guns and gun control in US • Dramatic event leads to burst • But attention fades quickly • Legislative cycle longer • Hard to write stories when • No new events • Consensus among politicians
Ad watch/Fact check • Non-partisan attempts to check the facts on political advertisements and claims of politicians
Does it work? • Some positive effects in laboratory, but also negative • Misperceptions hard to change • Need to be careful: • Don’t repeat false claims (illusion of truth from familiarity) • Don’t just state negation (Zeman is not a criminal) • Need credible experts or on same side of those with misperception • Need alternative causal story (if X=>Y is wrong, then what does cause Y) • Graphics help
Maybe it affects politicians more than politicians • Recent experiment: send letters to politicians telling them that they will be fact-checked (other politicians don’t get this letter) • Those who receive letters are less likely to tell falsehoods
How to avoid irrationality • Are you becoming angry during political discussion? • Do you have strong opinions about a subject before acquiring relevant evidence? • Do your opinions NOT change as you gather evidence? • Do you seek information only from sources you agree with? • Do you think people who disagree with you must be evil?
Danger of stories • Our brains are programmed to like stories • But stories are biased • Narratives are too simple • Emphasize intentions, but world often unintentional • A little knowledge often worse than no knowledge • People who tell stories are trying to manipulate you • What are typical narratives about Czech politics • Battle against communism/communists • Czechs versus foreigners (Germans, Austrians, EU) • Ordinary people versus rich and powerful • Honest people versus corrupt politicians
Should we try an exit poll? • An older article, Stanley Kelley, “The Simple Act of Voting” • “I’d like to ask you what you think are the good and bad points about the political parties. Is there anything in particular you like/don’t like about Party X? What is that?” • “Which party did you vote for?” • Record up to 5 different responses for each party • It will probably be too onerous to do all the parties – maybe the top 4 or 5 (CSSD, TOP 09, KSCM, ANO, ?) • Voter’s decision rule: voter chooses party with higher net number of positive reasons
How to do it • Stand outside the exit from the polling place • Identify yourself as a student of political science at Masaryk University who is taking a class on elections • Politelyask the voter if he or she would like to participate in an exit poll conducted for a class project. • Tell them it will be completely confidential and it will take no more than five minutes. Do not ask for the person’s name. • If they refuse, thank them and move on to the next person. • Repeat this process until you have completed between 5 and 10 interviews