A news article published on the 22 June 2005 was found on an African news website, www.afrol.com. The subject of this news article is based on Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the new deputy president of South Africa. This news article will be textually analyzed below with the aid of an international news article found on www.bbc.co.uk of the same subject. The international news article will only be used to aid in positioning and pin pointing the African news article in terms of journalistic bias, objectivity, a balance of perspectives, ‘spin doctoring’, and/or image management. The essay will detect the presence of these aspects because a journalist is supposed to be object when delivering news to the public.
“Intent doesn’t matter. The news consumer receives damaged goods if reporting isn’t fair” (Seib, P, 1994: 15). If a journalist fails to attain an objective point of view, the journalist might be viewed as incompetent. According to Seib (1994:15), journalists are not doing their jobs correctly if their coverage is constricted by premeditated bias or even inadvertent lack of evenhandedness. We immediately assume that information given to us by the media is accurate and impartial, but the information given could be systematically preferred over another and it is important for citizens to be aware of this.
To maintain objectivity journalists must avoid bias perspectives, they must not allow their cultural background and experiences to affect they way they view news or potential stories. Keeping in mind that the two news articles are only accounts of what happened from two different perspectives, bias is ultimately inevitable. Bias is the extent to which media content systematically favourable to a particular set of interests (Street, J, 2001: 17)
Bias appears in a variety of disguises, four types of bias have been identified. “They are to be distinguished by their place in a two-dimensional matrix” (Street, J, 2001: 20). Namely partisan bias (explicitly and deliberately promoted), propaganda bias (reported with the deliberate intention of making the case for a particular party or policy or point of view, without explicitly stating this, unwitting bias (explicit but not conscious or deliberate) and ideological bias (hidden and unintended). But there is a counter argument to bias research. The complaint here is that ‘bias’ assumes the possibility of an objective reality, which according to critics is a myth (Street, J, 2001: 25).
Agenda setting and gate keeping determine which stories will appear in publication. Agenda setting is one of the possible ways that the mass media can have an effect on the public. “Agenda setting is the idea that the news media, by their display of news, come to determine the issues the public thinks about and talks about” (Severin, W and Tankard, J, 1992 : 159). In other words, the term gate keeping is used to describe the flow of information to the readers, watchers and listeners. The gatekeeper’s ideology influences what news he is willing to let rush out, and sometimes plays a role in which opinions are printed.
The article from the African news article shows evidence of bias, therefore lacking an objective point of view. In a sense objectivity and bias are inextricable. For example it states: “The 49-year-old Mineral and Energy Minister has so far been remarked for her outstanding work to economically empower South Africa’s black majority”. It claims that she has been remarked for her outstanding work, but we do not know who has remarked her work and whose standards her work has been remarked on. How sure can the readers be that the writer did not use his or her own opinion? To counter argue this statement, it is stated at the end of the article that it was written by the staff writers.
This means that it includes more than one person, which should show less bias as it involves many opinions combined as one. This helps in reducing a single person’s opinion unless that group of people all feels the same about the specific subject at hand. When a journalist puts forward a statement without referring to an authoritative source that statement’s authentic value is lost. For example, it is said in the African news article that, “The President had further appointed Ms Lindiwe Hendricks as the new Minister of Minerals and Energy, according to a government statement” it is backed up with evidence. The statement that the staff writers have said becomes more valuable and plausible. This is more authentic than the statement “Some say…”
Opinions may be reduced, but they cannot be avoided. This article has claimed that Phumzile Mlambo-Nguka will be the next president of South Africa three times. Firstly when it says in the article, “Phumzile Mlambo-Nguka today was appointed South Africa’s new Deputy President, raising hopes that the country will get its first female leader when President Thabo Mbeki expectedly steps down in 2009” and two more times later on in the article. They presume this because she was appointed the Deputy President and because of the fact that Thabo Mbeki will step down in 2009 – “counting their chickens before they hatch”. It does not necessarily mean that she will become the next president, it is only assumed in this article and by viewing their opinion like this, they are being bias towards her.
The International news article, written by Justin Pearce, is more reductive and more objective. He turns issues into events and he has reduced details of the event, for example he only states that Phumzile Mlambo-Nguka was appointed Deputy President, it lacks details of where, when, and how she was appointed: “Her achievements in government have been acknowledged with her promotion to the deputy presidency”.
There is no mention of her taking over Thabo Mbeki’s position. There are many reasons for this. Firstly it is possible that because it is an international news article, it can be presumed that it is addressed to an international audience and they are not necessarily interested in the details, only facts. Secondly, Justin is not involved with South Africa hence is able to tell the story from a more objective point of view. The African news article shows more detailed specifics about her appointment to Deputy President as it involves and may even affect them: “The decision to name Ms Mlambo-Nguka South Africa’s new Deputy President was announced by President Mbeki at a cabinet meeting this morning”.
The three characteristics of objective journalism according to McNair (1998: 68) are the separation of fact from opinion, a balanced account of a debate and the validation of journalistic statements by reference to authoritative others in other words the ‘elite’. The African news article does not show all three of these characteristics hence it is regarded as not having an objective point of view. The staff writers from Afrol voice their opinion without clearly stating it. According to McNair (1998: 68) “the separation of fact from opinion” is one of the three characteristics of objective journalism. For example when the staff writers wrote, “…claimed that the rigged vote in the neighbor country was ‘credible’.
She has also been in the spotlight for a questionable loan given to her brother”. The staff writers used the adjective ‘questionable’ to describe her behavior. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka’s action cannot be explained by anyone. There is no one that can be held accountable for that statement. It could easily be passed off as the staff writers trying to cover up her actions because they feel strongly towards her. Furthermore, the use of the word ‘claimed’ also adds to this. Therefore the staff writers are putting their opinions forward about the matter they are writing about.
As mentioned earlier, in order for a journalist’s statement to be valid, they must include quotes from authoritative others. By including statements from the authoritative others, the journalist is validating her journalistic statements. This validation of statements therefore increases the authentic value of the staff writer’s statements and the readers are more likely to believe what the journalist has written. So the journalist does subsequently strive to achieve an objective point of view. But in regards to a balanced account of debate, journalists lack in possessing that characteristic of objective journalism.
This is because there is not equal amount of space given to Jacob Zuma as there is for Phumzile Mlambo-Ngucka, and Bulelani Ngucka is not even mentioned in the African news article. Pearce on the other hand, has included the facts of Bulelani Ngucka’s involvement of Jacob Zuma’s downfall: “Her husband, Bulelani Ngucka, is the former chief prosecutor who initiated an investigation into the financial affairs of sacked former Deputy President Jacob Zuma – the man she replaces”. All parties involved should be given an equal chance or space to voice out their opinions about the matter at hand. In this case only one politician is given a platform to let her outlook be heard.
It has been stated that when journalists write stories for newspapers they tend to use the inverted pyramid, meaning that they state the important things first and then the less interesting information later. With an inverted pyramid story we give away the solution (or in our case a summary) at the very beginning. The rest of the story contains less important information until we just stop (Perrone, V, 1994, www.teachervision.fen.com/page/6402.html, 30/09/2005).
This article somewhat attempts to use this strategy. The staff writers have first stated details of promotion to Deputy President which is the most important detail but they also write about what she’s done for the country – as if to praise her which is not quite necessary. Then one of the essential details of her wrong doings to the country is left until after the third paragraph in attempt to minimize the amount of space given to her negative aspects. When using the inverted pyramid things that are significant usually appear in the first three or five paragraphs.
In addition the article also contains unwitting bias because of where it is located on the website. This is when the gatekeepers decide where an article should appear in terms of the space that particular story is allocated and the page number that that story is placed. The gatekeepers’ make these decisions based on the newsworthiness of that story an the story’s ability to attract the reader’s attention (Street, J, 2001: 147).
For example this particular story appeared on the homepage of the African news website which shows that it was an important fresh story, relevant to Africa, unlike the international news website as they considered other articles to be more newsworthy. The editors and the journalist may even make these decisions unconsciously. Space allocation is something that is regarded as one of the conventions to follow when running a newspaper or news website.