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Mistakes, Lies, and Lying in the Media

Mon, 17 Sep 2007 Source: Pryce, Daniel K.

Mistakes, lies, and lying are very widespread in today’s media; I wish to make the Ghanaian media my focus in this article. To understand the reasons for this trend, one must ask and identify the critical questions necessary for detecting media bias. It is salient that all of us understand what media bias is, without which our evaluation of media bias might be flawed, or worse still, completely erroneous. The following questions will help every person identify bias in the media:

1. What is the author’s or speaker’s socio-political position?

2. Does the speaker or writer have anything to gain personally from delivering the message?

3. Who is paying for the message? Where does the message appear? Who stands to gain?

4. What sources does the speaker use, and how credible are they?

5. How does the speaker present arguments? Does the message include alternative points of view, and are these alternative points of view discussed in an impartial manner?

6. If the message includes alternative points of view, how are those views characterized?

Does the speaker use positive words and images to describe his/her viewpoints, and negative words and images to describe the perspectives of others?

Analyzing the aforementioned questions will help expose the presence of bias in a particular news item, and this is crucial if the reader or viewer/listener is to fully grasp the profundity of bias and/or corruption pervasive in the contemporary Ghanaian media.

Contemporary concepts of corruption date back to the ideals of the French Revolution, a social change that would later influence the transformation of many regimes from monarchical to representative ones. And along with a representative government came a free press, press freedom being one of the most guarded civil liberties in Western cultures today. Although freedom of expression is an avowed stipulation for democracy to thrive, it has, over the years, been manipulated to serve selfish purposes as well. It is for this reason that the writer intends to reveal the nuances and dirty tricks found in news reportage, so everyone will become well-informed in dealing with media bias.

Lies, lying, and systemic corruption are prevalent in the media because of personal and political reasons, among others. While mistakes may occur just as often as the dissemination of deliberate lies, to avoid the impression that erring organizations did not search for the whole truth before publishing or broadcasting their findings, mistakes are not frequently acknowledged. The Harvard University-trained philosopher, Sissela Bok, defines a lie as “any intentionally deceptive message which is stated.” Lying for political reasons is very tempting because some politicians see lying as a way of getting out of a quagmire, or a previously dreadful decision. Also, “surrogates” lie to please their political bosses in hopes of garnering some future political or personal favors. These underlings are not just political appointees or public servants, but, surprisingly, journalists and members of the media.

In an attempt to conceal the truth, subordinates ? journalists and appointees ? at times end up as scapegoats for their bosses, as they are sent out to the “warfront” to lie, misinform, and mislead the viewer/listener or reader. “Disagreeable facts come to be sugar-coated, and sad news softened or denied altogether” (Bok). While some experts argue that lying cannot be completely expurgated from human actions, equally compelling is the argument that all forms of lying and deception are unethical and therefore unacceptable, especially from the perspective of the victims of such unethical dealings.

Liars are likely to assume that “truth is unattainable” (Bok), and so will lie regularly, believing that each lie is only marginally deceptive. Moreover, these liars in the media easily persuade themselves that no real deception was ever anticipated. As such, members of the media who lie, for whatever reason, are eager to persuade themselves that honesty will be unwise in a ruthless environment, such as theirs, where everyone else is prone to cheating; their concerns about the harmful effects of the deception they perpetrate have little impact on their own conscience or character.

Lies are also told in the media to advance one media conglomerate’s position over another, as well as mislead the public on some unpleasant decision by government (mainly in cases where a media conglomerate tends to be overly biased in favor of one party in its news coverage, or to simply attack another party, or a particular member of another party, to score cheap political points). Eventually, however, the public gets very forlorn when some lie that had been pushed around for a while is finally exposed.

Lies are further propagated in the media because of other biases: the profit motive; the easy-and-cheap-to-cover bias; the get-it-first bias; and the do-not-offend-the-conglomerate-that-owns-us bias. These biases pose a great temptation to a journalist, who, in his or her daily work, is constantly searching for that single story or explosive news item capable of catapulting that individual to the pinnacle of the profession, thereby making him or her a household name. The commercial bias found in the media is attributable to the fact that news organizations are moneymaking establishments. As such, these organizations ought to deliver a good product to the customer to make a profit, and a “good product” is, sadly, tantamount to a large readership or audience. The news media are generally biased toward conflict, because conflict draws readers and viewers/listeners. In such instances, many journalists lie or embellish information to make the news item more “luscious” for public consumption.

Lies and lying in the media are more effectively conveyed in the electronic media than any other source(s), for obvious reasons. The dual power of television and the Internet has had a tremendous impact on news dissemination to the extent that it is very easy for a journalist or newscaster to hoodwink millions of people instantly, and to gradually entrench the lie by repeating it several times until people believe it as “truth.” The preceding statement is the secret to brainwashing a segment of any population.

A potent method by which a lie is regularly conveyed to an unsuspecting public is through the creation of a strong alliance between the administration in power and a particularly powerful media conglomerate, as mentioned earlier. Once this relationship is forged, it rarely matters if the administration is lying about an issue; this media house is likely to consistently disseminate false information from the government as “truth” to an unsuspecting public. This type of alliance, therefore, is a microcosm of the massive news embellishment and the frequent politically-motivated mendacity plaguing today’s media. Without a doubt, this trend is observable in our nation, where certain media houses are overt ? and sometimes covert ? bedfellows of their political “fathers” and bigwigs.

The propensity for political attacks between aficionados of the NDC and NPP ? other parties play less notable roles in these harangues ? has gradually created a huge ideological divide in our nation, as ethical standards and good journalistic practices have slowly been jettisoned over time; in their place is the constant array of sordid and reprehensible media misinformation to which the good people of Ghana are now currently subjected.

In adulating Ronald Reagan for unilaterally winning the Cold War, Ann Coulter, a Republican strategist in the U.S., exposes her contempt for the truth and the ease with which she is willing to distort facts to enhance the Republican Party’s agenda. Most experts credit the “dissolution” of the Cold War to: the late Pope John Paul II; Lech Walesa and his independent trade union, Solidarity; Jimmy Carter, who put pressure on Moscow to respect the human rights of its citizens; and the Soviet Union itself, which was collapsing under the crushing weight of its own failed system.

Ann Coulter and her financiers, however, have always painted a different picture, the intent being to deceive the less informed and the gullible.

On a similar note, that we have segments of the Ghanaian population that constantly berate Kwame Nkrumah, Edward Akufo-Addo, Jerry Rawlings and John Kufuor, among other past and present leaders, irrespective of these leaders’ undeniable accomplishments and contributions to the advancement of Ghana, leaves much to be desired. Let’s face it: Not one past Ghanaian President was able to achieve all of the goals he set out to achieve, so we must give honor where appropriate. Kwame Nkrumah achieved a lot for Ghana, so did other past presidents of Ghana. The incumbent, John Kufuor, despite all his flaws, by virtue of his gentle leadership and his refusal to be vindictive, has crystallized the tenets of democracy began under the hugely popular Jerry Rawlings.

For one thing, Jerry Rawlings’ ascent to power in 1979, although quite inappropriate simply because he did not receive the people’s mandate, may have been necessary to reverse the excesses of corruption that had plagued the entire nation at the time. It is therefore important that the media and freelance journalists and writers reflect not only the accomplishments of each leader in question, but also his weaknesses and mistakes as well. Thus, to go off on a tangent and assiduously assail a politician without giving the person any credit whatsoever reveals serious bias, no matter how cleverly the information is packaged.

I have always believed that winning elections should never be by means of well-hatched, nonstop savage attacks on rivals’ credibility, but should be done on the basis of what the aspiring politician has to offer. As such, a media conglomerate which aligns itself with a crooked politician to besmear the image of opponents should be boycotted by the public until it goes bankrupt. The masses must understand that they have unrivaled power, and without their patronage no media enterprise will stay solvent. Let the people take back their clout and make sure that whatever they read, see, or hear is the truth and nothing but the truth. Even as the next presidential election draws near, Ghanaians should be on the lookout for spin specialists and propagandists who will sell their souls for a piece of bread. With a concerted effort, these propagandists can be stopped before they do lasting damage to the nation’s socio-politico-economic march to the realms of greatness.

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, in addition to two undergraduate degrees, holds a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at dpryce@gmu.edu.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Mistakes, lies, and lying are very widespread in today’s media; I wish to make the Ghanaian media my focus in this article. To understand the reasons for this trend, one must ask and identify the critical questions necessary for detecting media bias. It is salient that all of us understand what media bias is, without which our evaluation of media bias might be flawed, or worse still, completely erroneous. The following questions will help every person identify bias in the media:

1. What is the author’s or speaker’s socio-political position?

2. Does the speaker or writer have anything to gain personally from delivering the message?

3. Who is paying for the message? Where does the message appear? Who stands to gain?

4. What sources does the speaker use, and how credible are they?

5. How does the speaker present arguments? Does the message include alternative points of view, and are these alternative points of view discussed in an impartial manner?

6. If the message includes alternative points of view, how are those views characterized?

Does the speaker use positive words and images to describe his/her viewpoints, and negative words and images to describe the perspectives of others?

Analyzing the aforementioned questions will help expose the presence of bias in a particular news item, and this is crucial if the reader or viewer/listener is to fully grasp the profundity of bias and/or corruption pervasive in the contemporary Ghanaian media.

Contemporary concepts of corruption date back to the ideals of the French Revolution, a social change that would later influence the transformation of many regimes from monarchical to representative ones. And along with a representative government came a free press, press freedom being one of the most guarded civil liberties in Western cultures today. Although freedom of expression is an avowed stipulation for democracy to thrive, it has, over the years, been manipulated to serve selfish purposes as well. It is for this reason that the writer intends to reveal the nuances and dirty tricks found in news reportage, so everyone will become well-informed in dealing with media bias.

Lies, lying, and systemic corruption are prevalent in the media because of personal and political reasons, among others. While mistakes may occur just as often as the dissemination of deliberate lies, to avoid the impression that erring organizations did not search for the whole truth before publishing or broadcasting their findings, mistakes are not frequently acknowledged. The Harvard University-trained philosopher, Sissela Bok, defines a lie as “any intentionally deceptive message which is stated.” Lying for political reasons is very tempting because some politicians see lying as a way of getting out of a quagmire, or a previously dreadful decision. Also, “surrogates” lie to please their political bosses in hopes of garnering some future political or personal favors. These underlings are not just political appointees or public servants, but, surprisingly, journalists and members of the media.

In an attempt to conceal the truth, subordinates ? journalists and appointees ? at times end up as scapegoats for their bosses, as they are sent out to the “warfront” to lie, misinform, and mislead the viewer/listener or reader. “Disagreeable facts come to be sugar-coated, and sad news softened or denied altogether” (Bok). While some experts argue that lying cannot be completely expurgated from human actions, equally compelling is the argument that all forms of lying and deception are unethical and therefore unacceptable, especially from the perspective of the victims of such unethical dealings.

Liars are likely to assume that “truth is unattainable” (Bok), and so will lie regularly, believing that each lie is only marginally deceptive. Moreover, these liars in the media easily persuade themselves that no real deception was ever anticipated. As such, members of the media who lie, for whatever reason, are eager to persuade themselves that honesty will be unwise in a ruthless environment, such as theirs, where everyone else is prone to cheating; their concerns about the harmful effects of the deception they perpetrate have little impact on their own conscience or character.

Lies are also told in the media to advance one media conglomerate’s position over another, as well as mislead the public on some unpleasant decision by government (mainly in cases where a media conglomerate tends to be overly biased in favor of one party in its news coverage, or to simply attack another party, or a particular member of another party, to score cheap political points). Eventually, however, the public gets very forlorn when some lie that had been pushed around for a while is finally exposed.

Lies are further propagated in the media because of other biases: the profit motive; the easy-and-cheap-to-cover bias; the get-it-first bias; and the do-not-offend-the-conglomerate-that-owns-us bias. These biases pose a great temptation to a journalist, who, in his or her daily work, is constantly searching for that single story or explosive news item capable of catapulting that individual to the pinnacle of the profession, thereby making him or her a household name. The commercial bias found in the media is attributable to the fact that news organizations are moneymaking establishments. As such, these organizations ought to deliver a good product to the customer to make a profit, and a “good product” is, sadly, tantamount to a large readership or audience. The news media are generally biased toward conflict, because conflict draws readers and viewers/listeners. In such instances, many journalists lie or embellish information to make the news item more “luscious” for public consumption.

Lies and lying in the media are more effectively conveyed in the electronic media than any other source(s), for obvious reasons. The dual power of television and the Internet has had a tremendous impact on news dissemination to the extent that it is very easy for a journalist or newscaster to hoodwink millions of people instantly, and to gradually entrench the lie by repeating it several times until people believe it as “truth.” The preceding statement is the secret to brainwashing a segment of any population.

A potent method by which a lie is regularly conveyed to an unsuspecting public is through the creation of a strong alliance between the administration in power and a particularly powerful media conglomerate, as mentioned earlier. Once this relationship is forged, it rarely matters if the administration is lying about an issue; this media house is likely to consistently disseminate false information from the government as “truth” to an unsuspecting public. This type of alliance, therefore, is a microcosm of the massive news embellishment and the frequent politically-motivated mendacity plaguing today’s media. Without a doubt, this trend is observable in our nation, where certain media houses are overt ? and sometimes covert ? bedfellows of their political “fathers” and bigwigs.

The propensity for political attacks between aficionados of the NDC and NPP ? other parties play less notable roles in these harangues ? has gradually created a huge ideological divide in our nation, as ethical standards and good journalistic practices have slowly been jettisoned over time; in their place is the constant array of sordid and reprehensible media misinformation to which the good people of Ghana are now currently subjected.

In adulating Ronald Reagan for unilaterally winning the Cold War, Ann Coulter, a Republican strategist in the U.S., exposes her contempt for the truth and the ease with which she is willing to distort facts to enhance the Republican Party’s agenda. Most experts credit the “dissolution” of the Cold War to: the late Pope John Paul II; Lech Walesa and his independent trade union, Solidarity; Jimmy Carter, who put pressure on Moscow to respect the human rights of its citizens; and the Soviet Union itself, which was collapsing under the crushing weight of its own failed system.

Ann Coulter and her financiers, however, have always painted a different picture, the intent being to deceive the less informed and the gullible.

On a similar note, that we have segments of the Ghanaian population that constantly berate Kwame Nkrumah, Edward Akufo-Addo, Jerry Rawlings and John Kufuor, among other past and present leaders, irrespective of these leaders’ undeniable accomplishments and contributions to the advancement of Ghana, leaves much to be desired. Let’s face it: Not one past Ghanaian President was able to achieve all of the goals he set out to achieve, so we must give honor where appropriate. Kwame Nkrumah achieved a lot for Ghana, so did other past presidents of Ghana. The incumbent, John Kufuor, despite all his flaws, by virtue of his gentle leadership and his refusal to be vindictive, has crystallized the tenets of democracy began under the hugely popular Jerry Rawlings.

For one thing, Jerry Rawlings’ ascent to power in 1979, although quite inappropriate simply because he did not receive the people’s mandate, may have been necessary to reverse the excesses of corruption that had plagued the entire nation at the time. It is therefore important that the media and freelance journalists and writers reflect not only the accomplishments of each leader in question, but also his weaknesses and mistakes as well. Thus, to go off on a tangent and assiduously assail a politician without giving the person any credit whatsoever reveals serious bias, no matter how cleverly the information is packaged.

I have always believed that winning elections should never be by means of well-hatched, nonstop savage attacks on rivals’ credibility, but should be done on the basis of what the aspiring politician has to offer. As such, a media conglomerate which aligns itself with a crooked politician to besmear the image of opponents should be boycotted by the public until it goes bankrupt. The masses must understand that they have unrivaled power, and without their patronage no media enterprise will stay solvent. Let the people take back their clout and make sure that whatever they read, see, or hear is the truth and nothing but the truth. Even as the next presidential election draws near, Ghanaians should be on the lookout for spin specialists and propagandists who will sell their souls for a piece of bread. With a concerted effort, these propagandists can be stopped before they do lasting damage to the nation’s socio-politico-economic march to the realms of greatness.

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, in addition to two undergraduate degrees, holds a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at dpryce@gmu.edu.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.