Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Denis McQuail's typologies of "media bias"

Denis McQuail, Mass Communication Theory: An Introduction, (London: Sage Publications, 1994)

-----., Media Performance: Mass Communication and the Public Interest, (London: Sage Publications, 1992)

Doron Mendels, The Media Revolution in Early Christianity: An Essay on Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman's, 1999)

I stumbled across this typology this morning, and it got me thinking, so I thought I would post it, since it seems to speak to some of the matters of "unseen things encoded in Bibles" that I am trying to explore here.

I am quoting a paragraph from Mendels's Media Revolution in Early Christianity (a book worthy of review in its own post - I'll get to that in the coming weeks):

McQuail proceeds to offer a typology of bias that distinguishes two basic variables: "hidden" or "open," on the one hand; and "intended" or "unitended," on the other [McQuail 1992, 193-195]. The cross classification of these two variables yields four main types of non-objective or biased news performance. First, there is partisanship, an open and intended bias that is "normally identified in the structure of news media by its form (editorial leading article, opinion column, forum or access slot, letter, paid adverstisement). In such cases, the convention is to separate partisan from objective sections." Second, there is propaganda, a hidden and intended bias that is "more difficult to deal with, partly because the intention is concealed. It can often occur in the form of objective news, for instance, as information (or 'disinformation') supplied to news media by spokespersons, public relations sources, interest or pressure groups; or 'pseudo-events' staged to gain media coverage or attract an audience.... The most problematic feature of propaganda, defined like this, is the near impossibility of identifying it in the news output in any certain or systematic way." Third, there is unwitting bias, an "open, but unintentional, bias in the selection of topics, events and news angles" that can usually be recognized in "systematic patterns of preferential attention or avoidance which are not justified by any statistical reality, but where there is no reason to suspect propagandist purpose." Fourth, there is ideology, defined as "hidden but unintended bias, embedded in texts" and stemming from the enduring values of the newsmakers themselves [Mendels 1999, 18-19].

Within what might be called American Bible culture, by which I mean not only the books themselves, but Christian bookstores and faith-oriented radio and television stations, as well as many of the political rhetorics that are deployed in campaigns and around various legislative issues, we can certainly see aspect of all four fields of this typology at work. For example, Focus on the Family has this year been engaged in partisanship with regard to retail establishments that they surmise to be sufficiently (or insufficiently) Christmas-honoring. Then again, there are probably those who would want to classify such activities (and in fact all activities of conservative Christians) as nothing but propaganda.

But the question, for me, has less to do with the wider political activities of Christians (at least in this limited case) and more to do with applying this typology specifically to Bibles.

That is to say, what is the best desciptor, in this typology, for the Bibles we are examining here? Are the elements encoded into published Bibles matters of unwitting bias, or of ideology?

I am inclined to think that the demarcation between these two possibilities is not so strict. Instead, perhaps, we see both unwitting bias and ideology at work in the material structure of published Scripture. As more Bibles are explored on this blog, this is a good hypothesis to test.

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