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