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Why is Media Bias an Issue?

To make our cause at the Media Research Center of Alaska relevant to our readers and supporters, it is important for us to clearly state how and why media bias is an issue.  With this article we wish to personalize this issue so that Alaskans can become informed readers and viewers rather than passive consumers of news.

We live in a society that values democracy and free speech as basic rights.  We also believe that "news" is, and should be, delivered to us in a factual manner with the important viewpoints equally represented.  In theory, it is supposed to work this way.  But, when news articles are measured for bias utilizing an objective process, one discovers that there is an agenda underlying much of the news Alaskans are subjected to and programmed by each day.

In defense of the news media, there are reasons behind the changing face of news content that are not entirely their fault.  Given that the average American may want to be entertained and the time and attention available to commit to news stories, the press may have shaped its focus to deliver content in an entertaining and "sound-byte driven" format.  As a result, news stories seem to be designed to ignite an emotional response to grab attention.  This attempt can be misleading.  The use of words to imply suspicion, controversy and/or fear, elevate public interest.  This is seen as good media presentation because it gets viewers to pay attention.  The benefit of increasing mass media distribution is, of course, an increase in advertising revenue.  Therefore, the rational behind a changed format of news content may have been shaped by the public-at-large, through a demonstrated increase in its interest to consume sensational news.  This may be simplistic but can account for at least some of the reasons behind why the news media has altered its delivery style over the years.  Additionally, technology itself has increased the fervor of delivery, increasing the number of news accounts and decreasing their depth.  This, in and of itself, reshapes delivery "style."

It is probably understood by most people that the news media is caught up in time and topic pressure and may dismiss some media bias claims as a result.  But with a closer look, one can see that media bias reaches far deeper, effecting the psyche of the reading/viewing public - because it's so subtle.  The sensational depiction of events is so common nowadays (they are all doing it) that is has become acceptable by most of society.  But, subtle misrepresentation of facts, either by omission or slanted, are often missed.  It is as if the facts are cloaked.  Therefore the Media Research Center of Alaska has committed itself to uncovering these subtle misrepresentations so that a reader is well-informed about the REAL story.  Of course, the MRCA will report on instances where there are blatant errors or omissions.

To begin the discussion of less obvious media bias, we need to understand that there are always many sides to every story.  As a result, each side needs to be given equal representation and equal weight so that the reader can decide for himself/herself what the meaning of the news is.  Even though the Media Code of Ethics clearly outlines this as a core value, it is not always adhered to.  Additionally, reporters have a difficult time NOT selecting their stories, words and sources independent of their personal views and/or the views of their newsroom where their paycheck is earned.

Some examples of media bias that the average news consumer might digest without a thought are:

  Words - the selection of words to describe a particular view positively compared to another in a negative way; labels used to enhance or degrade a person, place, thing, or group, etc., and pro or con contextual explanations effect the delivery and reception of a story.  Therefore, the use of words can have a significant impact on the reader's view.  The use of terms such as calling what someone says, "fact," compared to someone else's statement being only a, "claim," is a very subtle way of slanting a story.  And another often over-looked use of words is when a label is selected for a group, whether it be a political, racial, gender or any other, that either enhances or degrades that group, shaping in the mind of the reader, a particular "reality."  Additionally, words are often selected to create an emotive response as mentioned in the beginning of this article.   So, it is very important for everyone to become a critical reader of the words selected by the reporter and their possible meaning(s).

  Sources - the selection of "sources," for stories by reporters, should be representative of ALL sides of an issue.  Many times however, this just does not happen.  If reporters are under the impression that there are only two sides to an issue they believe they've got it covered if they contact a couple of sources that have opposing views.  This is not enough.  Also, the quality of sources needs to be equal when presenting a story - say for example, top management from different viewpoints.  Additionally, "access bargains" are often struck between a reporter and a source causing the reporter to provide certain "favors," as his/her value-add in an exchange for source material.  This can lead to a slanted story that can distort reporting from its inception.  The topic of sources and how it effects the reporter's presentation of his/her story is a subject that would take a significant amount of time to discuss in-depth.  This topic, among others, will be covered in our upcoming training product called, "Media Bias Investigation 101."

  What is newsworthy - is often controlled by the newsroom.  Topics are accepted and others overlooked given the agenda of the powers that be and based upon what topics fit into the "news of the day."  This is important to realize because the big picture is being missed by the public at large by not seeing all angles within their communities, political campaigns, business realms, the world and/or just about every aspect of people's lives.  Beyond ignoring news, the media may even go so far as to ridicule some ideas while promoting others.  Lastly, newsworthiness is no longer about how to improve our lives, but instead is about how to avoid the perils out there in the world that are too big to ever overcome.

  Political agendas - it would be naive of us to believe that an endorsement of a political candidate by any news media wouldn't affect its news coverage.  The same can be said when considering the individual views of reporters.  Therefore, it is prudent for each reader to examine the political views of the media and the reporters he/she is reading/viewing.  It is very easy for the media and its reporters to fall into the trap of becoming an advocate for a political figure or any subject of self-interest, rather than remaining an impartial observer reporting facts.  If the reader/viewer does not know this, he/she can be swayed into believing that the best candidate or the self-interests of the media are the whole truth. 

  Power and privilege - often those in power or in positions of privilege are cast in a more positive light than the average person.  This can mislead the reader/viewer.  An example of painting someone one way or another would be citing behaviors of one that are positive, like a candidate kissing babies, while in the same article, an opposing candidate is shown or described as being exhausted by his/her campaign schedule.  This type of coverage is a subtle way to improve the standings of one candidate over another in a “seemingly innocent way.”

Media bias is pervasive as suggested in the points above.  When one adds the practice of sensationalizing news, the reader/viewer has a huge task set before him/her, whether or not he/she knows it.  This is of great concern because if most the people most the time, believe everything they read or view, they will ultimately become the servants of those who write/publish and ultimately those favored by the media.  Alaskans will  become apathetic and uninvolved in making a better life, feeling incapable of making any difference about anything at all.   Thus an inquiry by all is required if we are to make the  independent decisions we need to, to be responsible citizens.

The Media Research Center of Alaska is dedicated to reviewing, analyzing and reporting on media bias.  We appreciate notification from anyone who spots media bias in Alaska media.  We have an action Guide located on our Website at:  http://mediaresearchak.org where you can proactively combat media bias.  You can also follow media bias analysis by signing up for our Media Bias Alert Service.  We can do a lot of the work, but we need you to join voices with us - so that the media is well aware of public sentiment about their reporting practices.  

Who Owns What

Media companies continue to grow, and a shrinking number of them shape what we view and read. What does that mean for journalists -- and for the nation?

View the list at the Columbia Journalism Review:







Action Guide

What YOU can do!

Part of our mission is to educate the public about what media bias is and how to participate in circumventing it.  Please go to the ACTION GUIDE so that you can easily raise your voice in the community in conjunction with others so that the media is aware of public sentiment about their reporting practices.  


Coming Soon!

The MRCA will provide online training in bias recognition. Please email us if you would like to be notified when our educational products are available.

Code of Ethics

Excellent Journalism = Ethical Reporting

Ethical violations in the media have multiple causes.  There is no exacting handbook that identifies what ethical reporting is or isn't.  However, the following criteria will assist you in assessing news articles for bias - bias being the illegitimate use of language or visuals to impede the reader/viewer from reaching an independent and impartial judgment.  (See the Society of Professional Journalists' own "Code of Ethics," to study what Journalists claim to adhere to).

   Deadlines can cause unethical   reporting

   Intentional unfairness, bias, or judgment

   Speculation compared to factual

Sensationalism – using words to play on people’s emotions

   Inability to separate truth from myth

   Sanitization of news for public consumption

   Diluted or marginalized content

   Public narcissism

   Imbalance in story-telling

   Lack of presenting both sides

   Manipulation to align with personal/commercial interests  

   Use of cynicism to maintain power and privilege


   Biased inquiry

   Journalistic affluence (influence)

   Media perceived as vehicles for entertainment

   Self-interest that incubates lies

   Political propaganda

   Sinister Intent of political propaganda disguised by entertainment

   Personality has become a substitute for character

   The moral debate

   Civic journalism gone too far to force citizens to make choices to live in a democratic society

   Abdication of civic responsibility by public servants

Become a contributing member to the Media Research Center of Alaska so that we can continue to offer FREE education in regard to media bias, report on media bias, and offer the ACTION GUIDE so that it is easy for you to proactively fight bias in the media.


Founded in 1999, the MRCA is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit research and education organization.  

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