In most democratic countries, broadcast media have historically been required to adhere to strong standards of impartiality in news. This is because of the perceived power of television and the limitations in broadcast spectrum, which inevitably restricted competition. In contrast, newspapers have largely been allowed to follow a more partial news agenda, especially in opinion pieces and political reporting. But in the past decade, in the United States, a new breed of partial news channels such as Fox News have gained popularity and a number of senior media figures have suggested that rules on impartiality on television are now outdated.1
Our data indicate that there is still strong support for impartial news, particularly in countries with strong public service traditions (Japan, Germany, France, UK) but there are very different attitudes in Brazil, which has largely followed an American commercial model. The Germans (1%), French (4%), and Japanese (4%) in particular don’t like news media – of any kind – to challenge their viewpoints, compared with people in Denmark, Brazil, and the UK.
Preference for impartial news, compared with news that shares or challenges your point of view
Scroll data area to see more
|Share point of view||19%||23%||31%||25%||18%||13%||24%||43%||15%|
|No point of view||70%||76%||58%||65%||78%||60%||68%||28%||81%|
Q5c: Thinking about the different kinds of news available to you, do you prefer? (choice of statements)
Base: All markets UK (n=2078) US (n=2028) Spain (n=979) Japan (n=978) Italy (n=965) Germany (n=1062) France (n=973) Denmark (n=1007) Urban Brazil (n=985) % agree
When analysing UK data, where we also have written comments where respondents explain their choices, it became clear that people who are very interested in the news find it hard to answer this question because they like impartial news AND a wider range of perspectives. Casual users are happier to default to one or two sources, which in the UK tends to be an impartial broadcast news source like the BBC.
Preference for impartial or partial news by segment (UK)
People who are ‘intense participators’ (heavy and proactive users of social media channels) are no more likely to consume news that shares their point of view than people who are generally interested in news. If anything they are also slightly more likely to look for news that challenges their point of view. This tends to contradict the ‘virtual echo chamber’ theory2 (at least in the UK), which suggests that digital and social media might lead people to take more entrenched views and miss out on a more balanced perspective.
In the United Kingdom, the press tends to support one of the two main parties, Labour or the Conservatives. It is striking, but not surprising, that our data show that supporters of these parties are more likely to consume news that shares their point of view compared with supporters of smaller parties like the Liberal Democrats and nationalist parties in Wales and Scotland.
Preference for impartial or partial news by political party allegiance (UK)
- http://www.theguardian.com/media/2010/dec/17/mark-thompson-bbc-fox-news. See R. Sambrook, Delivering Trust: Impartiality and Objectivity in the Digital Age (RISJ, 2012) for a discussion of the issue. ↩
- First proposed by Professor Cass Sunstein in 2001. ↩