Language In The Media

Point of viewHow media frames the message is an interesting perspective for analysis.  The choice of the words used to report news has an incredible ability to influence the way that an issue is perceived. This of course, should not be a surprise, as Marshall McLuan observed over fifty years ago in his seminal work Understanding Media: “the Medium is the message”.

Take for example this article: POLL: 25% of Canadians Want Travel Ban Similar To What Trump Proposed.  Imagine if the same article was titled “75% of Canadians do not want a travel ban similar to what Trump proposed”?  That likely would not have the same click-through rate…

The article reports several other figures and never really discusses the travel ban issue again. But it sure opened a debate, most commenters focusing on how they thought the number must be ‘higher’. “The Beaverton”, a satirical website picked up the story, also pointing out the 75%, Poll suggests 75% of Canadians sick of other 25% always embarrassing them

Here is another example from USA Today: One in five say women are inferior to men, global study reports

What if it said: “4 out of 5 respondents believe Men and Women are equal”?  The sample consisted of 17,551 adults from 24 countries from around the world, given that information it is even more remarkable that 4/5th in a “Global study” responded the way they did. The method for choosing the sample, how the information was gathered, and whether the sample was representative was not covered. If you go to the Ipsos Site and head down to the technical section you see that:

Technical note

  • In total 17,551 adults aged 18-64 in the US and Canada, and age 16-64 in all other countries, were interviewed between January 20th – February 3rd, 2017. The survey was conducted in 24 countries around the world via the Ipsos Online Panel system (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Great Britain, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United States of America). Approximately 1000+ individuals participated in each country with the exception of Argentina, Belgium, Hungary, India, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden and Turkey, where each have a sample approximately 500+. The precision of Ipsos online polls are calculated using a credibility interval with a poll of 1,000 accurate to +/- 3.5 percentage points and of 500 accurate to +/- 5.0 percentage points. For more information on the Ipsos use of credibility intervals, please visit the Ipsos website.
  • Data are weighted to match the profile of the population. In countries where internet penetration is approximately 60% or higher the data output generally reflects the overall population. 16 of the 24 countries surveyed generate nationally representative samples in their countries (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Poland, Serbia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and United States). Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Peru, Russia, South Africa and Turkey produce a national sample that is more urban & educated, and with higher incomes than their fellow citizens.”

Although the data was weighted to match the population, by virtue of gathering the data through an online platform, the results in many of the countries would have an artefactual bias as a result of over representation of the wealthier and more highly educated segment of the population.

As you read through the article though you see the challenge with the headline, it cites both country specific attitudes and many other statistics which point to greater systemic issues, but from the headline you would assume that the issue of inequality and gender equity was globally much better than ever before.

The travel ban article of course came out during the heat of the Trump administrations court battles and the USA Today article came out on International Women’s Day.   As Amin Maalouf wrote in The First Century After Beatrice: “People sometimes imagine that just because they have access to so many newspapers, radio and TV channels, they will get an infinity of different opinions. Then they discover that things are just the opposite: the power of these loudspeakers only amplifies the opinion prevalent at a certain time, to the point where it covers any other opinion.”

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