Real news or just for views? 


Can we really trust what we find out in newspapers, on radios, on TV or on websites, because people are becoming increasing sceptical about the legitimacy of our sources? Just 32% of adults in the UK trust the news media at least somewhat (Bond-2019). In a rapidly modernising society, there has never been this level of spotlight on how people source their news. The most popular cross-platform news outlet in the UK in 2022, according to Ofcom, was the BBC. News media outlets all over the world, that may claim to be impartial, have a bias, conscious and subconscious, that some people are not aware of when consuming news from their chosen outlet. 

Bias is defined as showing unjustified favouritism towards something or someone. This happens almost all the time in news coverage, which is, according to Upstate University of Southern Carolina, presenting viewers with an: ‘inaccurate, unbalanced view of the world around them.’  

Readers can be misled when the opinions of the writers are covertly pushed and promoted by mainstream media providers. Those who control what is shown on the news are a narrow group that disproportionately come from backgrounds of power, specifically older, white, middle/upper-class, able-bodied, straight, conservative men.  

The business model of news has been described as: ‘the more eyeballs you get, the more you get paid.’ Bias from journalists has always been present, seen in the case of a journalist paying children in Northen Ireland to throw rocks at the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary police) so he could get good photo opportunities. The situation turned into a riot, at a time when conflict was prevalent, resulting in a prison sentence for the journalist. Though this was an exceptional case, it demonstrates the power of journalists to control the whole story. 

Alternatively, according to ‘The School of Life’ we are taught that bias is always bad, people hate it because they love the facts, which reflects how we long for a world without the need for hard decisions. This is the problem: all of humanity’s most important questions require biased answers, and how we answer these is based on our values and what we want for the world. Perhaps we should stop labelling all bias as bad, and search for the better biases, and similarly news outlets should stop hiding behind ‘neutrality’ and instead clearly articulate their biases based on their visions of a good world. 

The BBC is seen as the most impartial and unbiased news outlets in the UK, although remember this statement is subjective and could include bias. We all have different subconscious biases ourselves and so the news that fits best with our view of the world, will be that which we view as the most impartial.  

Although many view the BBC as politically impartial, it can be seen as having biases. 70% of BBC journalists come from a privately educated background, compared to 7% of the whole UK. The majority of articles we read from the BBC are coming from privileged viewpoints. Non-white, disabled, LGBT+ or female journalists and opinions are important in adding diversity, however, it only works to a certain point when these people are mostly from wealthy backgrounds. It excludes whole sections of the population underrepresented in many jobs and positions of power. I asked BBC curator and radio journalist, Liv Walker, whether she thought that the BBC was biased. She responded, ‘Yes, everyone is.  Although we are supposed to be impartial, we aren’t always. However, we try and are attacked from both sides of the political spectrum’, which she argued was a good indicator of not being too biased. She acknowledged that the BBC ‘does better than other news outlets’, but that the media overall is dominated by wealthy people. Perhaps Walker talking openly about this shows that people inside the industry are aware that change is needed. Maybe this reflects a change in society towards a more representational media. 

The Society of Professional Journalism believes the solution is ethical journalism, which aims to ensure free distribution of information that is: ‘accurate, fair and thorough.’ An informed public is a powerful public, who can use quality information to view the world in different ways. However, this solution will take a huge and gradual shift in the media, which can’t be expected to happen immediately. 

 So, what can the ordinary person do to get unbiased news? Question everything; the website ‘Evidence and Answers’ tells us to check the source of the story, cross-examine the stories to see how they differ and look at the full story not just the headline or photo that first grabs your attention. We should also read laterally by going to other news sources to check out a story. 

Though as the reach of print and online news articles decreases (from 47% in 2020 to 38% in 2022) and the use of social media and internet to access news increases, it could become more difficult for ethical journalism. Anyone has the ability to put their opinion online and label it as facts. Will the spread of disinformation just get worse in the years to come, or will more online content diversify the range of opinions we are exposed to? 

If you want to find out more about this topic, there’s an interesting website: Media Literacy Guide: How to Detect Bias in News Media – FAIR.