General Question

eponymoushipster's avatar

Why are newspapers allowed to back a political candidate, but TV news networks are supposed to be "unbiased"?

Asked by eponymoushipster (20297points) May 25th, 2009

I realize there are plenty of news channels that are biased, but why is it so important that New York Times or Los Angeles Times backs a specific candidate, while NBC or CNN isn’t supposed to do so? I’m not supporting any one group; I was just wondering about this today.

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13 Answers

whatthefluther's avatar

Great question!

Darwin's avatar

Newspapers are only allowed to back a specific candidate if the backing is placed on the editorial page and clearly shown to be opinion, not fact. TV news networks and newspapers are required to be unbiased when reporting the news, but either can express their opinions if thoroughly labeled as editorial opinions and not news events.

However, as we know, no one can report every single scrap of news, so all reporting entities are capable of swaying opinion by choosing which news to report.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

News sources can back a candidate but readers and viewers need to know that once they do, the news is no longer an impartial source of information.

whatthefluther's avatar

I remember one of our local stations in Los Angeles doing a clearly identified op/ed spot making endorsements, but the issues were usually very benign and far from controversial. Before the internet (BI) there were few local print options but lots of tv viewing options, so the competition among the latter was huge. A tv station could not afford to anger viewers and risk losing sponsors, so endorsements were rare. The LATimes had/has a huge circulation and most advertisers were/are concerned with that count alone.

YARNLADY's avatar

The thinking is that since TV news broadcasts are a monopoly overseen by the FCC, they must present balanced unbiased reports.

Newspapers can be published by anyone, with very little regulation, and therefore can be as biased as they want.

charliecompany34's avatar

newspapers or print journalism have platforms to editorialize. TV news just reports and editorializing is taboo there because the job is to just say the news. a news show can have, however, an editorial segment aside from the news from a seasoned journalist, i.e., walter jacobsen of chicago news on FOX and/or CBS back in the day.

Blondesjon's avatar

how long have you lived in america?

aprilsimnel's avatar

Yes, @YARNLADY is correct. The networks’ mandate is to serve in the public interest, as the airwaves are technically public property and their administration is overseen by the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of the American people. This is also why the FCC was able to fine CBS for showing Janet Jackson’s boobeleh during the Super Bowl that one time.

I believe, however, that a local TV or radio station can endorse candidates. In that sense, a local station is like the local newspaper. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

Scroll through here for more information on why the FCC does what they do re: political candidates.

skfinkel's avatar

Because it is one thing to impart the news in an fair and neutral way, and then have the editors have a specific place where they make their opinions known, and it is another when all the news is given with a subtext that fits the philosophy of the owners of the station. In the latter case, you never really know what is going on, and your mind is pretty much made up for you. In the former, you have more information, as well as contrasting views, and then you hear what educated people think. You are given more information that allows you to decide for yourself what you think.

marcosthecuban's avatar

the Founding Fathers gave us ‘freedom of the press’- but unfortunately that has not applied to broadcasters so they’re stuck with different rules (and lots more government regulation).

cwilbur's avatar

In earlier times, there were several newspapers in even a smaller city, and all of them together gave an accurate view of the news. As a result, it didn’t matter if one newspaper was biased; the overall biases of all the newspapers would average out.

When television began, it was really expensive to operate a station, and so a region that had dozens of newspapers might have only one or two television stations. As a result, the government put in regulations on political speech that applied to television stations. They could do this despite the guarantee of freedom of the press because wavelengths for broadcasting were seen as a public good that the government had an interest in regulating, and the licenses to use it were given out in exchange for adherence to a specific code of conduct.

Now, newspapers are dying, and only a few cities have more than one local newspaper. And TV stations are proliferating, and easily reach national distribution. But the regulations on political speech are remnants of an earlier time when it was the other way around.

YARNLADY's avatar

@cwilbur Actually, it’s more complicated than just expensive to set up a TV station. The airwaves must be licensed from the government (the government is now making the TV people change over to that digital stuff)which give the stations a monopoly. Therefore the government insists they must give a balanced view.

On the other hand, anyone with a printing press (computer, these days)can start up a newspaper, with no government interference or rules, and therefore newspapers are completely free speech, available to any and every one.

elbanditoroso's avatar

TV and radio stations are licensed because they use spectrum, and have to follow the rules set up by the licensing agency.

Any idiot can start a newspaper (and they frequently do). All they need is a printing press.

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