What do we want from the news? We want something balanced and unbiased. Something that presents the facts as they are and alerts us to important issues.
So when we look at something like this, we think it looks legitimate. Something that gives both sides a fair go.
However, The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change asserts that while 95% of climate scientists believe global warming is happening, only HALF of the general public believe that scientists are in this much agreement.
So really, shows like I Can Change Your Mind About Climate don’t present the reality of the climate change ‘debate’. In reality, the TV show presents both sides as equal, with 50/50 representation. And that is the problem with a lot of the media in front of us today: it suffers from problems of balance and bias.
Ward, in Journalism ethics and climate change reporting in a period of intense media uncertainty, investigates whether journalists have an ethical responsibility to report only that which is supported by the majority of scientific study or whether they should report and amplify the ‘unheard voices’ of climate skeptics. Ward outlines that journalists ‘should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information’ (Ward, 2009). The general public put a lot of trust and faith in journalists that they are abiding by these outlines, however, being ‘fair’ doesn’t always mean being fair towards the issue.
At-a-glance: The immunisation debate is an SBS report that again analyses both sides of the debate. It has arguments both for and against. However, even though the report admits that most scientists and parents agree that vaccination’s benefits far outweigh any risks, the report is presented as though both sides of the story have equal standing.
This today tonight report does a similar thing: presenting the debate as something that has two equal sides.
So what have we learnt? Just because you present both sides of the argument in equal proportion does not mean that they are actually fairly represented. As in the cases of the Climate Change debate and the Immunisation debate, both sides ARE NOT equal, and should not be represented as such.
It is only when the media presents controversy in a way that is proportional to the extent of the controversy that the general public will be able to make up their minds using facts. Different opinions are essential to a democracy, but they should always be presented proportionally.