I used to consume news like a single cow consumes tons of grass daily, because I know it’s hard to get close to the truth, especially when it comes to disputed issues, unless I devote myself into massive reading, to hearken voices from all the directions. Although I did less so over the recent months, due to the weariness it brought to me and the apparent unnecessity for a 4th grade undergraduate to do so, I have long known of some Dishonest Reward candidates, like Reuters and BBC. I know it by occasional reading of media watchdog Honest Reporting’s reviews. Yet a systematic analysis has broadened my mind.
It is a paper titled “Reuters: Principles Of Trust Or Propaganda?” Reading through the entire paper, I get to realize that propagandists have many techniques to employ. These include card stacking, name calling, bandwagon, repetition, appeal to pity… just to name a few. According to this paper, the combination of Ethnographic Content Analysis (ECA) and survey is a reliable methodology to see if Reuters is biased on Israel-Arab conflict. And across the 50 article samples, 1104 occurrences of propaganda devices, logical fallacies and violations of the Reuters Handbook of Journalism are found, which makes my jaw drops.
The author, Silverman, listed some example sentences taken from these news articles. The phrases which falls into any categories of reporting/ethical failures are made italic. Even though I repeated reading those in italic, I find not anything suspicious until I read the author’s explanation. For instance, on the Flotilla incident, Reuters quote a passenger Tiiryaki as saying
“When we went up to the deck, they emerged from helicopters and military boats and attacked us. They approached our vessel with military ships after issuing a warning. We told them that we were unarmed. Our sole weapon was water.”
If I never knew that the passengers on Mavi Marmara were armed, I’d find no reason to disbelieve in this person, and then proceed to conclude that all the boats of Flotilla including Mavi Marmara are peaceful. But the author pointed out that this passenger wasn’t even on Mavi Marmara but on another peaceful boat. Mavi Marmara, as is clear, was filled with armed people and it was them who provoked the violence first. So the journalist failed to tell us that this passenger wasn’t on the boat where violence occurred. And as a reader I fail to notice it.
In other cases, propagandistic devices don’t work on me at all- mainly due to lack of English knowledge. For instance,
“Israel’s leaders have been unrepentant. Prime Minister Netanyahu accused Europeans of “hypocrisy” over efforts to stop Iranian arms reaching Gaza‘s Hamas Islamist rulers.”
In this sentence, I don’t even know the meaning of the word “unrepentant”. Usually my news reading habit tends to walk me over unknown words. So I wouldn’t know that, in this case, the journalist “implicitly conveys a judgment of wrongdoing and moral condemnation of Israel‘s government officials for the incident which had neither been alleged nor proven by any juridical body”.
“The uprising erupted when [President] Clinton failed to forge a deal between the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak, then Israel‘s prime minister.”
Again, I don’t understand why the word “uprising” is inappropriate to describe the Intifada. But according to Silverman, this is a sort of euphemism.
To us, certain details such as figures, adjectives and phrases, aren’t remembered anymore the moment we move on to the next news article. They seem to be ignored, but who can tell what kind of impression they formed and left in our minds subconsciously? When a distorted summary of a person’s comment occurs, who would bother to check what the person originally said? Almost everyone has the commonsense that news are hardly neutral or unbiased. I am aware of this before and after reading news, yet I’m not when I am reading news. The problem is that I can’t identify the devices and logic fallacies.
One way to overcome this problem is, like I used to do, to read different versions of the same events, comments after the articles and media watchdogs’ blogs. However this is impractical to us busy animals.
Since news reading has been so inevitable, perhaps there is a need for the public to receive a self-education on identification of propaganda devices and logic fallacies. Just like the attitude people take toward online security issues. If we finally learned the lesson by ourselves, maybe our civilization will advance who knows?