Free speech: Echo chamber or error-checking?

Virginia Postrel in the NYTimes talks about economic models for media bias. That media bias may simply be market differentiation. She says:

The article makes some provocative predictions. It suggests that adding relatively moderate competitors may push rivals to take more extreme positions to hold onto their audiences.

Trying to correct Al Jazeera’s bias, for example, by introducing pro-Western competition, as some analysts recommend, “might cause Al Jazeera and similar networks to further differentiate their product by advancing yet more extreme views,” write the economists. “The effect might be only to radicalize, rather than moderate, their audience.”

The defense against this sort of extremism is to maximize the quantity of new sources so people end up with sane portfolios. There is no reason to believe that people with diversified news portfolios will tend toward extremism. The real problem is people who just rely on e.g. the NYTimes in order to oppose the view of the administration. Or the NYSun just to oppose the view of the NYTimes, etc.


2 Responses to Free speech: Echo chamber or error-checking?

  1. ooghe says:

    well- I agree with that entirely here. my biggest peeve has been any notion that any news source is capable of producing objective, disopinionated truth. I feel as if this high-falutin’ economic model is simply stating something that should be obvious to anyone with a whit of sense, which is that by the time you read anything that’s packaged and sold as news, you’re reading something that has been through a variety of filters and business decisions that reflect any number of opinions, rather than the absence of any opinion. It is no surprise to me that the same news program can simulataneously be accused of slanting to the left or the right, depending on one’s subjective POV. A news program may opt to use the terms ‘pro-choice’ and ‘anti-abortion’, and legitmately be seen as tilting in one direction, while at the same time avoiding at all costs covering news of GE’s latest toxic spill in your backyard, and be accused of serving right wing corporate interests.

  2. Wolfgang says:

    I mostly agree with this, but it fails to explain one important phenomenon – public opinion in different countries is different, and therefore media are biased in different ways. Many people in America complain about an “obvious” liberal bias on CNN; many people in Europe (among those few who watch CNN) complain about the “obvious” pro-Bush-administration bias on CNN.

    Judging from Al Jazeera’s English-language web-site (whose slight anti-American bias I definitely notice), I would not be suprised if there are already people in the Middle East who complain about Al Jazeera’s PRO-American bias…

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