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As readers of newspapers and viewers of television, we readily assume that the Nine О'Clock News, or the front page of the Daily Express and theGuardian, consists of faithful reports of events that happened 'out there', in the world beyond our immediate experience. At a certain level, that is of course a realistic assumption: real events do occur and are reported - a coach crash on the autobahn, a postman wins the pools, a cabinet minister resigns. But real events are subject to conventional processes of selection: they are not intrinsically newsworthy, but only become 'news' when selected for inclusion in news reports. The vast majority of events are not mentioned, and so selection immediately gives us a partial view of the world. We know also that different newspapers report differently, in both content and presentation.

The pools win is more likely to be reported in the Mirror than in The Times, whereas a crop failure in Meghalaya may be reported in The Times but almost certainly not in the Mirror. Selection is accompanied by transformation, differential treatment in presentation according to numerous political, social and economic factors.

As far as differences in presentation are concerned, most people would admit the possibility of 'bias': the Sun is known to be consistently hostile in its treatment of trades unions, and of what it calls 'the loony Left'; the Guardian is generous in its reporting of the affairs of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Such disaffections and affiliations are obvious when you start reading carefully and discussing the news media with other people. The world of the Press is not the real world, but a world skewed and judged.

Now what attitude might one take towards the 'bias'? There is an argument to the effect that biases do exist, but not everywhere. The Daily Express is biased, the Socialist Worker is not (or the other way round). In a good world, all newspapers and television channels would report the unmediated truth. This view seems to me to be drastically and dangerously false. It allows a person to believe, and to assert, complacently, that their newspaper is unbiased, whereas all the others are in the pockets of the Tories or the Trotskyites; or that newspapers are biased, while TV news is not (because 'the camera cannot lie'). The danger with this position is that it assumes the possibility of genuine neutrality, of some news medium being a clear undistorting window. And that can never be.


2. Answer the following questions:

1. When you see a broadsheet (a quality paper), a middle market paper and a popular tabloid, how do the papers differ in terms of size, headlines, photographs and use of colour? What sort of reader is each paper appealing to? Are the differences between paper similar in different countries?

2. Which of the following would you be more likely to find in a broadsheet or a popular tabloid or both: a) horoscopes; b) a gossip column; c) sport pages; d) stock market prices; e) an analysis of foreign news; f) art reviews; g) law reports; h) a problem page; i) crosswords.


3. Match the word underlined in the headline to the explanation given on the list on the right:

1. Aid for famine victims increased a) surprise

2. Free school meals axed b) connected

3. Ban on football hooligans c) bad experience

4. Takeover bid for BP d) reduction

5. Bomb blast kills 9 e) question

6. High Street spending boom f) caused to suffer adverse effects

7. MPs clash on green policy g) increase

8. Cut in arms spending h) extreme danger

9. Fugitives flee fighting i) attempts to persuade

10. Drugs haul at airport j) something seized or stolen

11. Test match hit by protest k) marries

12. Drinking water linked to disease l) try/attempt

13. Rail strike looms m) leaves

14. Kidnap victim’s ordeal n) fall sharply

15. Peril on oil rig o) run away

16. PM’s pledge on pollution p) number of people killed

17. Shares plunge q) assistance

18. Football manager quits r) stopped

19. Police quiz star s) approaches in a threatening way

20. Police seek rapist t) disagree

21. Public spending shock u) explosion

22. Threat to cup final v) potential danger

23. Death toll now 28 w) look for

24. MP weds actress x) prohibition

25. Candidate woos voters y) undertaking/commitment


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