The rules covering broadcast news media in the UK – to the apparent disappointment of the Murdochs – enforce impartiality. Newspapers, though, are under no such obligation, and too many of them operate to an agenda: anyone observing the recent behaviour of the Maily Telegraph will have seen this.
But in the USA, the whole system operates as in a mirror: newspapers are, generally, scrupulous to the point of curing insomnia when even handedness is concerned. And, although mainstream TV networks – like CBS, ABC and NBC – do their news straight down the middle, no such constraint operates on the cable news networks, in particular our old friends at Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse).
This has been brought into focus for folks in the USA – though it’s equally interesting to see from a UK perspective – by this article on the National Public Radio (NPR) site, which compares the UK print media with its US counterparts. NPR talks to a Guardian journalist, plus editor Alan Rusbridger, as well as Tory MP Nick Boles – the latter’s comments being candid and thought provoking.
And in a competitive cable news marketplace, it’s not only at Fox that opinionated hosts are present – and argue that this is not such a bad thing. Check out this interview, where MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow guests on the Letterman show: the thrust of Maddow’s argument is that hosts having a point of view is key – otherwise those people would just be newsreaders.
Maddow’s comments also illustrate why CNN have dropped to third in the cable news ratings, and ratings are what the game is about there. Of course, were the impartiality rule to be dropped, this mirror image of TV and newspapers either side of the North Atlantic might cease to exist.