AS another election year approaches, concerns about political bias in the media will undoubtedly intensify. We feel it is important to maintain our analysis of the quality of politically related news and opinion stories published and broadcast not only because we feel that there is value in presenting another perspective, but also because we know from research elsewhere that often consumers are unable to identify the existence of media bias.
This is perfectly understandable, as it requires great media savvy to be able to demystify some of the writing and production strategies used in framing the published and or broadcast information. Hence, if people are seeking news from a source that they do not realise is biased, they are likely to be hard-pressed to make informed decisions based on the information provided.
This is not to say that an argument cannot be made in favour of framing information from a politically biased perspective as is sometimes the case; after all, individuals and groups do not all see issues in the same way, and so should not be required to report and commentate on them as if they did. Having said that, it remains my considered opinion that it is better to start with news that is balanced, rather than risk confusing our audiences about the situations under discussion.
One programme that is making waves in the broadcast industry is the Television Jamaica (TVJ) production All Angles. In my view, this is a model TV production, both in terms of the quality of the information provided as well as the overall production standards.
While its very telegenic presenter, Dionne Jackson-Miller, deserves much credit for her contribution as moderator, I think the behind-the-scenes work crew should also be commended for putting together a programme of which the station can be justifiably proud -- at least most of the times. The team obviously recognises that television is a visual medium and the more successful productions benefit from effective use of visuals and movement.
Of the last three programmes that I have viewed, the contentious Payola issue in the broadcasting industry (having to pay to get your music played), the Dudus/Manatt enquiry report; and more recently on July 28, the ban imposed on the scrap metal trade, all should have had little difficulty in holding their audiences and in the process gain valuable information. The programmes run from anywhere between 42 and 51 minutes. Hence I must assume that the variation is due to an overrun of time allowed for the discussion which is strange for a station that seems to pride itself on adherence to time schedules.
The All Angles producers obviously make a concerted effort to put together a panel that reflects mixed views and perspectives on the issues discussed. While some media critics often contend, certainly in the case of the political discussions such as the Manatt/Coke Report, that the balance favours the anti-government perspective, I see little or no evidence of that in the All Angles programmes that I have viewed.
I do recall that for the discussion on the Dudus/Manatt Enquiry, the eminent Queens Counsel Frank Phipps complained that those holding anti-government views outnumbered him on the panel. But there can't be many people who would believe that the learned counsel is someone who would need support to make his points effectively. Perhaps his peeve was related to an inability to work the moderator in his favour as, unlike other interviewers I've seen on TVJ and other stations, Jackson-Miller is usually prepared and seldom allows panellists to get away with making unsubstantiated claims or dominating the discussion. In any event, there was a fair representation of civil society and other professionals on that discussion panel who provided the pace and flavour needed to make the programme interesting to viewers. It certainly never dragged.
In addition, the producers make full use of their social networking site, Facebook to engage their audiences and intermittently cutaway in-between segments to allow a member of the production staff to report some of the comments. This segment has become so popular that the programme appears to have discontinued the telephone call-in element that was once a regular feature.
The programme that discussed the pros and cons of the ban imposed that week on the scrap metal trade was another gem. The panellists were Dalma James, president of the Small Business Association of Jamaica; Anthony Hylton, Opposition spokesman on industry, investment and commerce; Jonathan Aarons, president of the Scrap Metals Federation and one of his executive members, Rohan Brown. None of the panellists dominated. Although no government spokesperson was represented on the panel, the producers more than made up for that missing element by cutting away repeatedly to broadcast sections of the announcement of the ban by Minister of Industry Trade and Commerce Dr Christopher Tufton.
However, Jackson-Miller advised viewers that the ministry was invited to send a representative but did not take up the offer. This is always a useful thing to do in keeping audiences aware of some of the intricacies that may militate against the quality of the production.
Besides involving the audience through Facebook comments, the production also cut away to several field interviews involving small tradesmen in scrap metals who, as the moderator stated, had limited or no forum to air their views on the ban. This certainly put another perspective on the issue that has been overwhelmed with negative news on the trade in recent weeks. The producers went further by providing other short cutaway interviews with senior personnel at the National Water Commission and LIME (telephone company) the companies that are said to be among those bearing the brunt of the losses from theft of their materials.
The other important strength in this production, as referred to earlier, is the quality of the moderator herself, Dionne Jackson-Miller. Her questions show that she does her homework, and is very comfortable with the medium. I have known Jackson-Miller for several years, from her days as a young journalist at one of our newspapers, and she has certainly mellowed as a broadcaster who, not only in my view but based on comments I have read on her work, commands a high credibility rating at present.
It is very likely that she is among the few to whom media audiences will be looking increasingly for reliable coverage of information throughout the political silly season ahead.