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Public Tasked with Determining if News Coverage is Fair, Writes Prof. Jeff McCall '76

August 25, 2012

Twenty-five years ago this month, the Federal Communications Commission stopped enforcing the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to provide balanced coverage of issues. "The problem, of course, was that the policy put a government agency in the position of deciding whether independent news organizations were reporting fairly," writes Jeff McCall in the Indianapolis Star.

A professor of communication at DePauw University and author of the book, Viewer Discretion Advised: Taking Control of Mass Media Influences, Dr. McCall opines, "News consumers should know that they have to figure out journalistic fairness on their own. The government won’t, and shouldn’t, referee for them. Yet, news consumers have to wrestle with a reporting agenda they perceive as unfair."

Public opinion polls show Americans have lost trust in news organizations, the professor notes.  "A major challenge for news consumers is to separate reporting from commentary. In newspaper, the the opinion section is clearly labeled. But it’s harder for viewers watching network television news, where reporters seem to have trouble distinguishing between reporting information and editorializing. One recent example of blurring that line: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, reporting live on Paul Ryan’s selection as Romney’s running mate, proclaimed, 'This is not a pick for suburban moms, this is not a pick for women.' No indication that this was commentary. No attribution or sense of how Mitchell reached that conclusion."

McCall, a 1976 graduate of DePauw, offers, "The media industry should be troubled that polls show declining public confidence in its news products. Credibility can’t return until audiences are convinced that news organizations have the public’s interest in mind. Broadcast and print news executives need to assess their newsrooms systematically to see if a culture of reporting fairness prevails."

His column concludes, "Citizens today can’t be casual news consumers if they want to be fully informed. If you get all your news from watching Sean Hannity on Fox News Channel, you are not fully informed. If you read only Newsweek magazine, you are not fully informed. It takes time and effort to scan many news sources and create the mosaic needed to get a wide and accurate news agenda. In a sense, news consumers need to create and execute their own Fairness Doctrine if they want to achieve balance in their news."

Read the complete text at College News.org.

Jeffrey M. McCall is regularly cited in articles on media matters.  He recently spoke to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the resignation of CNN's worldwide president and authored a column on viewers' disdain for "dumbed down" TV newscasts.

Source: Indianapolis Star

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