The articles that are reviewed in this essay are related to droughts in Africa in 2009. The articles are about the recent discovery by scientists about the incidence of drought in the African continent which shows that the continent has a history of droughts in Africa in the Sahel region is due to climate cycles. This essay will review these two articles in order to identify media bias in their reporting of the research findings of the drought-related issues in Africa. The articles chosen are from The New York Times and The Telegraph. Thus, we deliberately chose two newspapers from two different countries.
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In order to look for media bias, this essay will consider the following if the articles have reported reliable and liberal sources, whether they draw conclusions on their own accord, and if the representation of the fact is more dismal than what it actually is. It must be understood that the media representation of the scientific study on droughts in Africa is erroneous or it is actually what has been reported and if the reported implications are unbiased. In this article, we will show how media presentation of the drought in Africa is biased.
The articles we reviewed are titled Study Finds Pattern of Severe Droughts in Africa (Revkin, 2009) and (Alleyne, 2009). Revkin’s article provides a vivid description of the report including the method that was used by the scientists to undertake the study. The article cites scientific researches published in academic journals as a source for the article where environmental scientists have predicted more severe drought for the West African regions.
Revkin endorses the ideas presented of more droughts in the African region and has a “green bias” (Sloan & Mackay, 2002) like many environmental journalists. Even though the research states that the drought is not caused due to human exploitation of green pastures and natural resources, Revkin implicitly indicates it in the end when he states that the population pressure in the region may have been an added reason. However, the article in the Telegraph does not imply that one cause for the droughts in Africa could be anything other than what the research states. Clearly, the green bias in the article by Alleyne is lesser as compared to that of Revkin’s.
The sources used to support their argument in both articles are similar. The main source of the articles is from the journal Science and interviews with the chief researchers from the University of Texas and the University of Arizona. These two sources are used in order to provide greater credibility to the scientific reporting and the facts about the research findings which has been provided in the articles. However, Revkin uses more sources in order to legitimize his argument in the article. These sources are the office of Human Development Reports of the United Nations, and a climate scientist from the University of California. Both the sources are liberal sources indicating that they endorsed the arguments put forth in the article and enhanced its credibility. Therefore, media bias towards the drought report is more in the case of Telegraph which considers only the research findings to be the Bible for reporting such a grim issue. While the article in New York Times has provided other sources who may validate and show further possibilities in the research area. Consequently, it can be argued that more scientists and environmentalists cited in Revkin’s article make it less biased towards the issue of drought in the region.
Now comes the question of distortion of the truth represented in the articles. Has the truth about the droughts in the Western African region been distorted? Apparently no. both the articles present the same grim picture which has been drawn by the reports. The articles relate that the present condition of the drought was cyclical and the drought experienced by the region currently is “minor” as compared to what has happened or what might happen. Though there is a slight difference in the reporting styles of the two articles. In the Telegraph, the article deliberately describes the main points of the research and its findings. While the article in New York Times paints a grim picture of the situation with too many unsupported quotes, rather deliberations, from the scientists who feel that the future droughts will be more severe. Though there is no scientific proof for the same. Therefore, Revkin has a doomsday bias in his article where he makes the story grimmer than it should have been.
A usual bias that is evident in the case of environmental journalism – consciously or unconsciously – of facts that show the reason for the real problem (Sloan & Mackay, 2002). However, in this case, both the articles cite the reason to be a cyclic change in climate pattern as mentioned by the research team. Therefore this bias is not present in these articles.
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This article in the US newspaper received a relatively longer coverage than that in the UK newspaper. The reason might be because the British newspapers have a bias towards issues with “human interest” which implies that some coverages appeal to the interest of the readers due to their visual impact and larger reading habit. So according to this, British newspapers are biased towards environmental issues which cover “cute” animals more than dismal droughts (Sloan & Mackay, 2002). Therefore, the coverage of the African drought research is more in New York Times than in Telegraph.
Both the articles have some element of bias in their coverage of the drought coverage in the newspaper. The articles either have a green bias or a doomsday bias or a bias towards the choice of story. However, they are biased in their representation of the story to a great extent.
Alleyne, R. (2009). Catastrophic droughts in Africa are the norm, claim scientists. Web.
Revkin, A. C. (2009). Study Finds Pattern of Severe Droughts in Africa. Web.
Sloan, W. D., & Mackay, J. B. (2002). Media bias: finding it, fixing it. New York: McFarland.