Rod St. Aubyn: How Can We Hold The Media Accountable For Bias?

During the recent protest in Ferguson, Missouri, I was struck by what I thought was media bias on the TV coverage.

With all the protesters on TV, weren’t there any Ferguson residents that disagreed with the protesters, the looting, and the outlandish statements made by some. I have to believe that there were others that thought many were rushing to judgment and were disgusted with the looting and violence, especially when many were not even Ferguson residents.

Where was that coverage? I thought several times, would the protest have lasted as long as it did, had the media not continually made it news? Though I think it was important to cover the story I still think that the media at times only made the situation worse.

Now I read about another similar story in Utah, but this time it was a young unarmed white man killed by a black policeman. There was hardly any coverage on this situation. Why?

How often do you think that the media creates the news rather than simply reporting the news? I do not intend to start a war with the media, but rather offer some constructive criticism that I think is shared by many.

The media often puts authorities in an unfair situation. For example, the media may splash a person’s complaint about Workers Compensation, an insurance company, a medical provider, or even law enforcement. But because of confidentiality laws, investigations, etc, the entity cannot directly comment on the story. So the public is basically provided “one side of the story” even though the entity has been given the opportunity to respond.

I wholeheartedly support a free press and feel that it is one reason that our country is so great. However, I often wish there was some way that news organizations could be objectively evaluated by the public. Some may argue that that is happening now with people choosing which paper to read, which TV station to watch, and which radio station to listen. However, these forms of media should be concerned when several polls have shown that many people, especially the young, are getting their news from the internet and from cable TV programs such as Jon Stewart on the Daily Show.

While this media bias shouldn’t surprise anyone, I wondered what could be implemented to hold the media more accountable and make the public trust their reports more. One thought that I considered was to have the state’s media come together and develop media standards that all state media would be judged on with input from the general public. Then each media entity would be audited periodically based on these self-established standards by an independent body.

Then a ranking of some form would be established (A, B, C, etc. or 95%, 85%, 70% and so forth). The media would be required to display their rankings within their media source (in the newspaper, displayed on a TV’s graphic during their news casts, verbally reported on the radio newscasts, etc.). This ranking, if done fairly and based upon objective standards, would not only restore some credibility of the public, but also could be a great marketing tool for a particular media outlet. Each media outlet would be scrambling to ensure a top score and would use that top score to compete with their competitor. The public would benefit by having media presented in a more fair and balanced manner as specified in these new standards that would be developed with public input.

I fully understand that “the devil is in the details” and how the standards are established and how the media is fairly evaluated is critical for this to work. However, I think if the state’s media were to adopt this process; it could become a “best practice” within the media world and could spread throughout the country strengthening the public’s confidence in today’s media. In my opinion, the state’s media would have nothing to lose by starting the band wagon.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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