Media Bias: The Left, or Right?
It has been an ongoing debate regarding media bias between the
Researching the Television Fiction Market
PART A: Survey and Data
Channel 4 is a British public service television broadcaster (PSB) based in London, United Kingdom. It is dedicated to provide innovative, alternative content that challenges the status quo (Channel website ref). By design, Channel 4 was somewhat unique by comparison to its UK counterparts in BBC 1, BBC 2, ITV and Channel 5 in that it is a unique model framework is that of a ‘publisher-broadcaster’ (Channel 4, 2019). So it doesn’t utilise an in-house production team for content but directly commissions content from UK based production companies (Channel 4, 2019).
Channel 4 reinvests all profits back into its programmes, so as a result this cross-funding strategy (see figure 1) enables profitable programes to financially offset less successful programmes that are delivering the PSB’s remit (Channel 4, 2019).
One of the main listed commitments for Channel 4 under is Diversity and representation. It’s charter, year after year, lists their key target is ‘to appeal to people whatever their culture, nationality, religious persuasion, physical and mental ability, sexual orientation, gender, race or age’ (Channel 4, 2019, n.a.).
In January 2015, Channel 4 developed it’s 360° Diversity Charter, which focuses on a commitment to increasing diversity and ethnic minority representation both in front and behind the camera; to truly reflect the diversity of Britain today (Channel 4, 2019, n.a.). In supporting its claim to being diverse, it specifically highlights Desmond’s – the first black sitcom first broadcast by Channel 4 in 1989, to the World Para Athletics Championships in 2017, as some of their achievements in bringing forward neglected experiences and perspectives into the mainstream audience
Channel 4, 2019, n.a.). However, the reference to Desmond’s belies the actuality of Channel 4’s diversity.
FIG 1 – Cross-funding model
This gap in the bridge between policy and reality has created the need for enquiry. This essay will explore the relationship between the UK produced ethnic minority TV series Desmond’s (1989-1994) and its repeat rights or rerun pattern on Channel 4. The current absence of Afro-Caribbean sitcoms and TV series counters the ethos of the charter and from here we can address potential opportunities to engage the charter in terms of new writing entrance programmes, scheduling strategies, amongst other modes that could turn the situation around positively.
Figure 2 – Desmond’s Cast
Section 1: Scheduling
Desmond’s was an Afro-Caribbean British television situation comedy broadcast by created by Writer Trix Worrell for Channel 4 from 1989 to 1994. Desmond’s became Channel 4’s longest running sitcom in terms of episodes with 71. Desmond’s was not the first black sitcom on British TV – that would be The Fosters, which ran from 1976 to 1977, featuring Norman Beaton and Carmen Munroe (who went onto play Desmond and Shirley Ambrose) and a young Lenny Henry. That show, however, was not an original creation, adapted from US sitcom Good Times. (The Guardian, 2019).
The rerun can best be defined as a TV or radio performance that plays a show again, after its first broadcast has been completed. The TV rerun has become a by-product of mass culture and programming strategies have evolved as a result (Williams, 2010).
Creator Trix Worrell provided insight into his difficulty in getting the show green-lit by Channel 4 executives: ‘I didn’t write Desmond’s for black people,” says Worrell. “I wrote it for white people so they could see how black people really are.’ (The Guardian, 2019).
Looking at the TV scheduling for Channel 4 in 1989, we could say that Channel 4 was providing a fairly consistent amount of content that reflected its diverse audience.
On a Thursday or Friday night we could view reruns of The Crosby Show (1984-1992) from 6:00pm, followed by its spin-off A Different World (1987-1993) and then Desmond’s at 8:00pm. This was almost back-to-back viewing and reflected the lives of both Afro-Caribbean, African American families and 18-24 year olds from middle-class families. More importantly, it showed educated, professional families living in well-furnished homes they had paid for, running independent businesses in the community and sending their children to respected universities. This indirectly countered the negative media image of ethnic minority groups being shown literally minutes before on Channel 4 news.
The show won a British Comedy Award, beating tops shows like Drop the Dead Donkey (1990-1998) and two BAFTA nominations for Best Comedy before lead actor Norman Beaton’s death.
The rerun scheduling following the conclusion of Desmond’s in 1994, showed gradual pushback i.e. later and later viewings on quieter nights and times. How likely would a dedicated audience continue to watch a rerun TV series at 04:00am on a Tuesday morning?
18 years later Desmond’s returned to British television, but only via niche broadcaster, The Africa Channel. Reruns of the sitcom have been shown in the US on Black Entertainment Television (BET), Paramount Comedy and the government sponsored access channel NYCTV up until 2007. In the same period, the DVD season box-sets for series one and two were released on DVD. Up until then it was impossible to watch the show in the UK (The Voice, 2013).
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By comparison, shows like Frasier long since its final season, still has its reruns shown on Channel 4 from 08:00am every morning consistently. Despite the positive nostalgia of having Desmond’s shown again on All 4, there’s nothing different or innovative that reflects progress (The Guardian, 2019). Diversity is continually being pushed for on a policy level but current content doesn’t reflect this (Broadcast, 2018, n.a.). The opportunity for UK based ethnic minority writers here would be to fill that 6:00pm Channel 4 slot with original content because it already has a kind of socially nostalgic memory with minority audiences. The Afro-Caribbean audience can remember the time when The Crosby Show would be shown at that time far more readily than most TV shows in the same vein that The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (1990-1996) would always run on BBC 2 from 6:00pm Tuesday nights.
Section 2: Failed Replication and Consistent data
The trend noted from the data collated is that the absence of ethnic minority sitcoms is consistent throughout the different periods.
Following the conclusion of Desmond’s, Channel 4 did attempt to replicate the success of the show quickly by producing spin-off Porkpie (1995-1996) written by Trix Worrell also and the BBC 1 did the same with Meet the Crouches (2003-2005) and both shows even went as far as offering roles to former cast members from Desmond’s. Neither lasted long as Porkpie was rushed and showed poor world-building and Meet the Crouches had a White British Writing team who had very little engagement or experience with writing for ethnic minorities (Francis, 2013).
Geff Francis, former cast member of Desmond’s, stated that the television industry was failing to create relatable content for ethnic minority communities (Francis, 2013).
This is further reinforced by Ofcom’s 2015 PSB Diversity Report which articulated that diverse communities did not believe that PSB’s were making authentic creative TV shows that reflected their lives (Ofcom, 2015). Ofcom’s 2017 report Diversity and equal opportunities in television;showed no sign of progress in saying that broadcasters had a responsibility to widen the talent pool on and off screen caused by the lack of ethnic minority representation being allowed into television – ‘creating a cultural disconnect between the people who make programmes and the millions who watch them’ (Ofcom, 2017, n.a.). Medhurst concluded that if there were more sitcoms about ethnic minorities who had more involvement in the production process, there would be less reliance, expectation and ‘burden of representation’ on shows like Desmond’s and The Crosby Show (Medhurst, 1989).
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Weekly viewing by channel group – Week ending 13th October 2019
liberal and conservative values. The allegations for each of the parties being prejudiced between one another come out more so during political elections. Anything revolving around a political debate tends to turn into an all-out brawl between the two parties. Accusations are thrown back and forth; one to the other. Studies have shown in the Gallup poll, that the media outlets display favoritism more so towards the liberal point of view versus the conservatives. They stated that, “The majority of Americans believe that the mass media slant reports in favor of the liberal position on current issues.” These views are plainly evident to see regarding the disputes over the 2008 election as well as gun laws/rights, and the media has had an enormous hand in swaying its viewers to the left.
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Notably, many media outlets use things such as newspapers, radio, television, and the internet to their advantage with a liberal point of view. They use these outlets as a tool to make it a point, ensuring the people that the liberal way, is the only way. There are many popular media outlets such as Cable News Network (CNN), National Broadcasting Company (NBC), and The New York Times that highly favor the liberal position. Cable News Network is a widely popular news outlet for people across the country. This news company tends to shed negative light upon the Republican party and their beliefs.
Throughout mainstream media, on numerous accounts, people often wonder how credible their sources can be throughout the political elections and current issues within their country. A primary example of liberal media bias is evident in the fact that the reporters only stream the democratic headlines and stories. They are dedicated to exhibiting stories involving the constructive things the Democratic party does, and only account to one side of that political party. Ben Shapiro stated, “The Washington News Post called me and asked how you can determine if a media source is credible or not. I said you have to look at two things: are they open with their bias and do they run stories that counter their bias?” Most media sources tend to sway to one side or the other and do not run news stories that counter the other political party. This is a display of bias within their outlet. They solely focus on endorsing one political party, which in this case is the liberal view, and exposing stories about the Republican party that many have deemed to be ‘fake news’. Among these media outlets, it is clear that the headlines are biased based to the opinions of the news reporters. They pick the stories that they want to report and how they want them to be covered. If this continues to happen, it will become a constant cycle and the other political viewpoint will never be displayed.
Because of all of the media outlets, you will be able to find things that support your point of view. There are many websites and news channels that lean in one direction more so than the other, but the most marketable media sources favor the democratic party. They tend to attack the other political party and have lack information on the opposing views of their stories, which is described as a counter bias. In order to not be considered biased, you would need to obtain both sides of the parties and display diversity within the content you post. The New York Times, CNN, and many others lack in this array of broadcasts. They only present one-sided stories that involve the Democratic party, endorsing their news, and catering to themselves. In this video Ben also stated, “Not everything that comes from the New York Times is false, it may be that the angle they are giving you, is an angle that you don’t like or an angle that doesn’t reflect underlying truths.” The facts of the stories may be correct, they are just approached in an angle that leans toward the left-wing of the political spectrum. They use these angles to sway the stories in the view of a Democratic standpoint.
Considering the media’s bias and one-sided viewpoint, unbiased reporting is extremely vital, so the citizens can be informed on what is going on within the world around them. “Reporters are given orders on how to slant the news so that there’s a liberal political benefit. Before a story is published on-air, online, or in print, it’s distorted so that the liberal political viewpoints are promoted, while conservative beliefs are suppressed.” The mainstream media solely focuses on presenting factual information, but they present it in the point of view of a liberal or a member of the Democratic party, which comes off as biased to that specific political party. When media reports the stories, opinion is favored over facts. An antithetical view is excluded and the comments within the reports are not arbitrated in a non-partisan way.
Moreover, media bias has been said to go back for decades, especially between the two political parties. An example of mainstream media bias in the liberal standpoint is the presidential election in the year 2008 where “Media outlets were criticized for helping Barack Obama win the White House while portraying the John McCain and Sarah Palin in a poor light. The Katie Couric interview that skewered Palin is one example that conservatives point to that gives evidence to their claims.” McCain was extremely disappointed, feeling as if his campaign had been extinguished due to comments and reports made by television anchors and news journalists that sided with Barrack Obama and his campaign. This example of democratic media bias could have a negative effect on the public’s opinion. Any type of media bias reflects negatively upon the citizens public opinion. It is bad for democracy. Media bias can sway people solely because of the angle they display their reports on. They present them with the information they want to hear and see by overlooking the issues. The media reporting these stories in the light they want to show them in could cause the publics personal opinion to gradually fade away. With the persuasion they present while covering news stories, they will begin to believe everything they hear and see as opposed to developing their own opinion about an issue or political matter. The defamation of McCain and praising of Obama lead to the people leaning to the democratic party in the 2008 election.
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Another example of bias in the media outlets is the issue upon gun control. This has been an ongoing debate between the democratic and republican parties for years. The Democratic party is tremendously supportive of the gun control law. They believe that citizens should not be allowed to own a firearm, even if it is for the sole protection of them. Liberals have pushed this law to be passed for many years and will not stop until they enforce it. Questionably, but not surprisingly, “CNN Town Hall on Wednesday night only featured questioners who supported gun control.” This represents media bias because when having a debate over gun control laws, they only have supporters of this law being passed. Questioners opposed to restricted gun laws and avid supporters of the second amendment are openly excluded. The media bias on gun laws impacts the public opinion, trying and making everyone to perceive that guns are extremely macabre. There have been very many cases in where innocent people have been murdered with firearms because the wrong people got ahold of them, but also these said firearms are a source of protection for the people of this country. The media always unveils the gruesome stories of shootings and fails to include reports of guns being a source of protection for the people.
Through all of the research and obvious depictions from media, it is easy to see the weight that is put on expressing liberal views. A poll that was recently taken for media journalists found that “Of the 462 people surveyed, 17.63% called themselves “very liberal,” while 40.84% described themselves as “liberal. When you add it up, 58.47% admit to being left of center. Along with that, another 37.12% claim to be moderate. In fact, a mere 0.46% of financial journalists called themselves “very conservative,” while just 3.94% said they were “somewhat conservative.” That’s an unarguable 4.4% of the total percentage that leans right-of-center. That’s a ratio of 13 “liberals” for every one “conservative.” This poll plainly exhibits that the mainstream media outlets of today are exceedingly biased to the liberal political views. In result of this, there is no variety between political views, and they convey no exposure to all sides of the political spectrum.
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