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Foregoing the Hardship
[ Issue 150 Page 11 ] Monday, November 28, 2016, 19:47:00 Jae Hwan Jeong Junior Staff Reporter jeong7331@kaist.ac.kr

     Just as much as anyone holds the right to voice their opinions, not tampered in any way by external forces, the mass media should not be exempt from this fundamental right in any way either. Many people believe that the unbalanced coverage of the media resulted in immutable repercussions during the 2016 US presidential elections. However, it is important for us to understand the implications of this claim; if we endorse ourselves to the shame-and-blame routine that Trump entrenched in his campaign, we merely become victims to his broken worldview and propagate ourselves a step further towards a hatred- infested society. For the current nature of the mass media cannot persist without some form of subjectivity, and for there is no clear evidence of the substantive role that the media played in altering the results of the presidential election, unbalanced media coverage does not speak to any political intent and its overall presence is highly justifiable.

     By de jure standards, there is a list of roles that the mass media plays during every election period. One of those roles is to educate the voters on how to exercise their democratic rights to the fullest extent. The term “democratic right” encompasses the electorate’s uncensored knowledge about the candidates, and the media serves as the facilitating body of this very knowledge. Whether the idea of “unbalanced coverage” points to the quantitative discrepancy in the coverage of each candidate or to the noticeable predilection towards a single candidate, the whole procedure is dependent on where the public’s attention is veered towards. Statistics provided by journalist Jonathan Stray of the Nieman Lab does show that the number of times each candidate was mentioned in the mainstream media aligned with their standings in the national primary polls. However, careful analysis showed that the two variables loosely drove each other to the same direction but was insufficient to suggest that media was forcing the overall trend. Therefore, what this statistic entails is the existence of a third variable that drives both the media and the poll results — it is the public’s opinion. Going back to what the media serves to do during election periods, the numbers corroborate the idea that media upholds the already established public opinion, instead of shaping it.

     The development of the social media platform has allowed politicians and brands to channel their own agenda to the public directly. If one wishes to find out which candidate is doing what, one simply has to follow one’s personal streams. Journalism thence has moved away from being a mere herald of facts, and face the urgency of having to dig deeper than just the superficial narratives to attract readers with something “new”. The days of political deadlock and mudslinging through the manipulation of mass media is not something today’s democracy can tolerate. As its own sovereign body, the publication chooses to deliver whatever they deem apt in quenching the interests of the public. However, any formula of putting together the myriad of analysis in a limited space will cause it to seem biased to some. In other words, it is impossible to retain perfect objectivity under these conditions. It is true that certain media platforms fawn to certain candidates and admonish others, but the public has the option to view those articles with skepticism or disbelief — the choice is ours.

     Political obstinance is the democracy’s equivalent of mens rea — people may think they have a firm stance on a subject but that is bounded within the scope of knowledge that they are exposed to at that specific point in time. The media’s role is to expand that scope of vision so that people can make political judgments much more comprehensively. And if fingers should be pointed to anyone at all for the presidential campaign’s upshot, both the media and the public should be judged on equal grounds — the general public have as much responsibility to harbor a critical viewpoint. Appreciating the media’s role in the election means that the question at hand is not whether media has done the right thing or not, but rather whether it should exist. People who are disapproving of the unbalanced coverage are asking to strip off everything that media is, and it's something we cannot risk.

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