Daily news programs have been modern society’s main source of information in its everyday existence. It has become such a necessity in each of us that simply ignoring its importance and effects on our daily lives would be considered as the opposite of innocence and tantamount to social ignorance. We have relied on this in times of natural calamities, political events, wars, business decisions, or simply for entertainment.
However, blind acceptance on the way of the delivery of news at face value would endanger the uninformed viewers on the biases and inclinations a news program may contain. These are the pre-conceived ideas that a Network may want a certain populace to absorb, via voice intonations, the use of music, sound effects, or even through the chronological arrangements of the news itself; ABC 7’s News Program, particularly its report on unemployment, on introduction of gay issues in schools, and on teachers’ impeding lay-offs, clearly establishes the principles explained by Neil Postman and Steve Powers on the biases and inclinations on news reporting.
Since reporters are often not present during the actual event that’s being presented, it would be safe to term the news report, according to Postman and Powers, as re-presentation (98, 1998). News re- presentations take two forms: Thru language, and thru pictures.
In Language, Postman and Powers identify three principles considered as fundamentals in the proper evaluation of a viewer in his analyzing a program: 1. Whatever anyone says something is, it isn’t (98, 1998). This simply states that the occurrences of the actual events differ from the way words are utilized in describing it. It is an accepted fact that no two people will describe exactly in the same manner a single event, even if these people are both present at the same time. Hence, it is within the responsibilities of a good reporter to find words that accurately express the correct emotions surrounding the event. With this principle, a viewer must never conclude that what is reported in the news is of the absolute truth. 2. Language operates at various levels of abstraction (Postman and Powers, 1998). This principle teaches that there are three different levels of ideas that the purpose of words may connote: first is with the purpose of describing an event; second is with the purpose of evaluating an event; and lastly, with the purpose of making an inference from what is unknown on the basis of what is known (Powers and Postman, 1998). It is common for the viewer to encounter in watching news programs, these three types of statements: description, judgments, and inferences; and it is equally important for the viewer to discriminate among these three. 3. Almost all words have connotative meanings (Postman and Powers, 1998). This principle teaches that even with the journalist’s best intention of using descriptive and non-bias words, it would be unavoidable not to embed his own emotions on the subject. The reason for this is that for every person, a differing concept and history of language exists.
ABC 7’s Primetime News
In ABC’s Primetime news on May 08 of this year, a news report entitled, New Unemployment Rule, anchored by Mark Matthews, Dan Ashley, and Cheryl Jennings clearly manifested the third fundamental principle as stated by Postman and Powers in their book, How to Watch T.V. The said report, which tackled the drop in the unemployment rate in the month of April, 2009, had shown its inclinations with respect to the third principle by:
Third Principle: Almost all words have connotative meanings (Postman and Powers, 1998). In the said report, it has been illustrated with the use of computer imagery, that the unemployment rate for April, being the lowest in six months, was pegged at 8.9%. Mark Matthews, in his commentary, spoke of it as, “being bad, but still better than what was expected” (8 May 2009). The application of the third principle in this statement, after further analysis, would imply that the 8.9% drop would still translate to over 539,000 job lay offs, a staggering figure once the family of the said lay off figure is taken into account. Hence, an average of 4 people per job lost would translate to over 2.1 million people suffering as a result of the incident. To what extent can we surmise the implications of this loss, in terms of a child’s education, medicine, food, shelter, and other basic needs?
The pre-imposition of a positive mood as a means of delivering a tragic news would seem correct and moral, only if one is not equipped with a sensitivity for other people suffering as a result of such a tragic event.
Gay Issues on Schools
In the same news coverage by ABC 7 on 8 May 2009, Lyanne Melendez’s report, Alameda may Introduce Gay Issues to Schools, focused on the planned inclusion in the curriculum of 5-year-old kindergartens of gay and lesbian issues. The said report was focused on the early general acceptance of a child on such filial/social conditions, and whose primary aim is to lessen child teasing and bullying aimed at individuals with such backgrounds. What was clearly evident in this report is the second principle by Postman and Power in their book, How to Watch T.V, in which it was stated that: language operates at various levels of abstraction (1998).
Kristen Vital, the District Superintendent for Alameda Unified School, was quoted in the report as saying that, “the notion is to include everyone and make a welcoming environment for everyone, including our lesbian-gay-bisexual-transsexual community” (Melendez, 2009). The problem lies in the very notion of identifying a gay or lesbian, since it is common knowledge that there exist different types of gays in a society, i.e. cross dressers, discreets, openly gay, etc. How can a five year old, still not fully developed in his social identification skills, be able to distinguish a discreet gay from a straight man? And what assurances can the family have that such insertion into the curriculum would not result in the children’s having sexual identity crises? Perhaps Karen England, the spokesperson for Capitol Research Institute, explains the point best, “These are discussions that belong at home, and they certainly do not belong in the kindergarten classrooms” (Melendez, 2009).
San Lorenzo Teachers
Also in the May 8 news program of ABC 7, as reported by Laura Anthony, wherein 79 San Lorenzo teachers were terminated from work, teachings on the book by Postman and Powers were likewise evident, of which the first principle was most apparent: Whatever anyone says something is, it isn’t (1998). The said report was filled with interviews of the teachers, who, understandably, were saddened and angered by the Education Department’s decision. In fact, out of the 10 interviewees, only one was from the District Office who was willing to convey the economic reasons for such drastic decisions. Thus, it can be concluded that all the other 9 interviewees, all of them teachers, were utilized as ground bases for mass support, perhaps against the job termination done by the Education Department.