Are readers sophisticated enough to filter what they read?

May 3, 2006

Are the opinions presented in newspapers an obstacle to readers’ trust or are readers sophisticated enough to filter what they read and arrive at the truth – or a version of it? The issue emerged during discussions at the We Media forum and opinions were mixed.David Brain, European president and chief executive officer at the public relations company Edelman, believes that they are not an obstacle. Readers, he believes, are able to filter the information they receive from their favourite paper – and arrive at the “truth” for themselves.He said: “People buy the Times or the Mirror, which have different perspectives but their readers are still comfortable with that. They can interpret what they are reading and deduce the truth. I don’t think it’s true that people accept at face value the perspective they are given.”A European Commission representative at the event, however, disputed this view.Dominic Brett, head of outreach and regional affairs at the European Commission in London, said he strongly disagreed with the view that newspapers or other news consumers are able to filter opinion from news.”People can’t filter this if they have not got a straight picture to start with. In the UK people do trust organisations like the BBC or Reuters. But I am less convinced than [David Brain] that people can filter news from papers like the Daily Mail. Readers are simply not in a position to do that, they cannot possibly do it unless they have the full picture to start with. If the agenda is so skewed in the media, how can anyone make an informed decision and thereby filter what they hear?”Brett said that the European Commission found reporting on European issues in the UK press was a “total hindrance” to ensuring that public opinion was informed.”We are not trying to stifle debate but reporting inaccuracy is a greater hindrance here than anywhere else. The UK is not the most Eurosceptic country in Europe – that honour belongs to Austria – but the constant misreporting of facts has a detrimental effect on a democratic way of life in the UK. The scorn of the media for the EU generally is very damaging, not least because so much of daily life is now decided in Brussels.””The fact that decisions in the EU are always endorsed by the UK Government is neatly overlooked. It would do the electorate in this country a big favour if we could have more factual reporting, so people could make their own minds up. A debate would then be possible. Until then, what happens is that everything gets blamed on Brussels and how the UK adopts laws is conveniently forgotten.”


Can readers and viewers decode media? Yes. everyone is this room can (yes, I’m at WeMedia too), but 95% of them are wearing suits, 80% probably work in the media and 100% are likely university graduates. Can my mum decode media? No. Can most people decode media? No. In fact, if there were any academic perspective at this forum – and why isn’t there? – the idea that we can easily decode media and get to “the truth behind it” or filter out its bias would be laughed at.


Where to start with Mr Brett…so the European Commission believes people are too dumb to decipher their own news? Adopting the typical Commission attitude of ‘we know best’ as is common in almost all their policy-making, ignoring the views of civil society, member states and businesses. The scorn of the EU in Britain comes because it is in many ways a ridiculous organisation – the clearest example being not being able to sign off its own accounts for over 10 years due to not knowing where or how it spends its money. The fact that ‘so much of daily life is decided in Brussels’ is not a good thing – hardly anyone votes in MEP elections and the Commission are an unelected bureaucracy who are completely unrepresentative of European citizens and completely unaccountable. The critical media in the UK is a good thing, unless Mr Brett would like to suggest that the media become a mouthpiece of the Commission? Finally, saying that decisions in the EU are ‘always endorsed by UK Govt’ is frankly utter rubbish, see for example the recent debate over the review of the Television without Frontiers Directive that will have a massive impact on the development of media services in the EU that the UK Govt has adamantly refused to go with the Commission’s proposal because it believes its not very good!

Posted by John Middleton | Report as abusive

– Like water finds it’s own level, so too will information…


John Middleton is factually wrong on quite a few points and indeed proves much of what I was making.

1) 80% of EU funds is spent by the Member States. It is fraud and mismanagement nationally that is far and away the greatest problem.

2) I never said that the fact so much of daily life is decided at EU level is a good or a bad thing but it is a fact of life, and one which many people are ignorant of. That IS a bad thing.

3) Proposed legislation is ALWAYS endorsed by the Council of Ministers (and usually the democratically elected European Parliament). It has to be. True, under qualified majority voting, a country can be outvoted by others but that degree of compromise is something all national authorities, including the UK, have agreed to in order to avoid paralysis of the system. If the UK has decided not to support the TV without frontiers directive, then it will make its representations to the Commission and other Member States and, if its case is strong enough, the proposal will be shelved. Simple.

4) No one has suggested the media become a mouthpiece for the Commission. Stop putting words in my mouth. My point, which stands, is that it is impossible for people to make informed decisions when, by and large, they don’t know – because the media don’t report the facts – what the EU does or how much power it wields. It may well be that more knowledge on these points could induce greater Euro-scepticism in some quarters (I have no way of knowing), but lack of knowledge is never conducive to democracy.

Posted by Dominic Brett | Report as abusive