22nd January 2024
Politics, Culture and Sensationalism: Understanding Bias in UK News

There is a lot of talk about bias in news. Some news aspires to be impartial, where those making the news do not insert their views into how news is made or presented. However, a lot of news is made with the specific views and biases of the person who presents or publishes it in mind.

So, we should all be aware that news is not always objective; some even believe that there is no such thing as objectivity in news because we all have different backgrounds and experiences which shape how we view the world and the stories we choose to tell.

At Impress, we condone partisanship because it aligns with our values that news should be diverse and inclusive, and that people are entitled to their views: that is their right to freedom of expression. However, our Standards Code says that while news may be partisan, facts should be accurate, never misrepresented or distorted, and clearly separated from opinion.

In this article, we’ll explore the different forms of bias that can occur in UK news, how bias shapes the news and what we need to think about when encountering bias in our news diet.

Political Bias

Political bias in UK news is undeniable and a core feature of why and how news is made here. The country’s media landscape can often be divided along political lines: newspapers like The Sun, The Guardian and The Times have distinct political leanings.

This bias can influence the tone and content of news reporting, what stories are reported on, and at times means only one side of an issue is presented, and in a way that caters to particular political views, decisions and outcomes.

National bias

This often occurs when news outlets prioritise local news over international events. This makes sense a lot of the time, as people want to know news that affects them directly where they are.

While it is essential to cover domestic issues, excessive focus on them can lead to a lack of awareness about issues globally. This bias can result in a more insular view of the world and may limit understanding of international affairs.

Corporation / Commercial Bias

When a media company operates for profit, it must consider that what it publishes could affect its relationships with customers and its bottom line. Corporations may therefore prioritise stories and analysis that align with their financial interests.

This can be a problem when this is done at the expense of being transparent with readers about commercial and editorial decisions behind the scenes, or if stories which the public have a right to know about, are not reported on because it may be contrary to commercial interests.

Culture Bias

When certain cultural perspectives or practices are favoured in news reporting at the expense of others, culture bias can manifest.

Left unchecked, this can lead to marginalisation and even discrimination. It can also mean you end up with a less inclusive media and minority groups and their stories going represented in the media.

Class Bias

Class bias is a deeply rooted issue in UK society and can be reflected in news coverage.

The news may disproportionately represent the interests and perspectives of specific socioeconomic classes, potentially, again, leading to the underrepresentation of marginalised communities and their issues.

Selectivity Bias and Sensationalism

Selectivity bias occurs when news outlets pick and choose which stories to cover, often based on their potential to generate interest or controversy, particularly if the business profits from attention, higher ratings, or circulation.

This can lead to click bait and sensationalism or stories that are simplistic, emotive, and provoke strong reactions instead of critical thinking.

Emphasising drama and conflict over facts can distort the public’s understanding of important and complex issues. Where sensationalism is promoted over stories which are important (but may be less exciting or edgy), it can distort not just our attitudes, but also our news habits, and what we think news is.

These are just some of the many biases that can shape our news. Bias is not inherently bad, but too much bias can throw our news use off balance.

To have a healthy and well-rounded news diet, it is important we recognise biases for what they are, and counter them by educating ourselves on bias and engaging with diverse sources of news, especially those that are accountable and follow ethical standards.

You can find out more about forming a healthy news diet here!

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