TCS Daily

Needing the "Fox Effect"

By Peter C. Glover - January 19, 2006 12:00 AM

Fox News has in well under a decade surpassed its competition in the US cable TV news industry. Analysis of this success has polarized debate among broadcasters in the US over whether and to what extent the mainstream media are politically biased. The key issue is whether news broadcasting can ever truly be worldview-free. Now the debate is starting to reach UK and European broadcasters.

When Fox launched in 1996 hardly anyone gave Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. any chance in what was already believed to be an over-subscribed arena. CNN's Ted Turner, cable news' media kingpin at the time, famously remarked that he was looking forward to squishing Murdoch like a bug in the ratings war. But it was ultimately Fox that squished CNN and the rest of the competition.

Fox's success is in no small part due to its vigorous debate between openly conservative and liberal opinion in its news analysis. Fox's methods have plainly struck a powerful chord with a strata of conservative American society that plainly felt itself disenfranchised by traditional news media out of synch with it on issues of abortion, gay marriage, religious beliefs, immigration and much more.

In a key survey of US journalists it was revealed that almost 90 percent voted Democrat and/or liberal in a nation predominantly -- at least at present -- Republican and conservative in its moral worldview. And, in a subsequent survey, 50 percent of US journalists admitted that their political and moral ideology "too often" influences their work.

In the UK the received wisdom is that the print media has a tradition of ideological left/right affiliation -- a tradition I would argue has blurred greatly in recent years. But the same cannot be said of UK broadcast media, which continues to maintain an assertion of worldview-neutrality. Just as the US broadcast media once did. While there are no comparable UK journalist surveys there is little reason to believe the problem with liberal bias is any less than it is in America. Indeed, numerous assessments of the BBC and Channel 4 news broadcasts suggest it may well be worse.

Over half of the British population, 54 percent according to a 2004 Gallup Poll, supports the return of the death penalty for child and police murderers. Yet it is almost impossible to find journalists who support the case for capital punishment. Christian conservatives regularly complain about anti-Christian, pro-Islamic and pro-multicultural bias in the media yet in a culture founded singularly upon the Judeo-Christian tradition. In 2003, when a government MP and BBC Radio 4's flagship "Today" program offered to pilot a Parliamentary Bill of the "listeners' choice" into law, they found they had entirely misread the assumed liberal values of their audience. When the right to allow homeowners the moral right to defend themselves by any means was the democratic choice, red-faced BBC producers could not drop the project fast enough.

In June 2004 the Centre for Policy Studies demonstrated what appeared to be a significant pro-European Union, left-leaning, bias at the BBC. The Centre found that in 28 Europe-related news reports BBC producers allotted Europhiles 61 percent of airtime compared with only 30 percent for Euroskeptics. In November the same year a senior BBC news correspondent sparked uproar among MPs by demonstrating openly "anti-Israel bias" in a report over Yasser Arafat's declining health. And we have not even touched upon anti-American, anti-Bush news delivery bias.

It is time British broadcasters too were delivered of the self-deluding myth that their broadcasting proclivities can ever be morally and worldview neutral. That, all too often, the liberal academic "expert" they invite on to deliver "definitive news analysis", is as likely to be loaded down with faith in his own worldview as much as alleged "expert" opinion on an ethical subject.

What can be gleaned from Fox's phenomenal rise is that it is the direct result of an under-represented public voting with its remote button. In doing so it has forced an industry-wide re-think. The advent of a Fox-style news broadcast channel in the UK would undoubtedly present a shock to the system. Especially in a country which has yet to even grasp the nature of the worldview debate. But with newspaper circulations in the UK dropping 5 percent across the board in 2004 and with only continued decline in sight, there is a growing body of opinion that strongly believes the UK and Europe would benefit greatly from the "Fox-effect" lapping up on their shores, too.

The author is a freelance writer and author of The Politics of Faith: Essays on the morality of key current affairs. He also edits the leading British blog Wires From The Bunker

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