Bias and Counter-Bias: How the Media Is Covering Participation of Islamic Action Front in Elections?
News about the Islamic Action Front Party, political arm of the (legally unlicensed) Muslim Brotherhood group, and its participation in the next parliamentary elections, has attracted significant media attention. This is especially since the resumption by the "group" of political participation comes via the gateway of the elections following a hiatus, which had lasted many years and started with the boycott of the 2010 elections and then the 2013 elections. This has been accompanied by relatively clear estrangement with governance circles and upheavals in the region.
The National Coalition for Reform is the name under which the Islamic Action Front Party is running in the next parliamentary elections through 20 electoral lists that include candidates for seats designated for women, Christians, Circassians, and Chechens. This reflects a bid to participate extensively in the elections to the 18th Lower House of Parliament, which will be held on 20 September.
The Jordanian Media Credibility Monitor (AKEED) followed published material in the media in relation to the National Coalition for Reform between 25 July and 25 August in four newspapers (Al Rai, Al Dustour, Al Ghad, and Al Sabeel) and on four electronic news sites (Ammon, Khaberni, Saraya, and Al Bosala.)
The selection of the media outlets took into consideration the diversity in attitudes and editorial policies toward the Islamic Movement. The monitoring was carried out by using advanced search on the search engine Google, using the following key words (National, Coalition, for Reform, list, reform, Brotherhood, Islamic, Action, Front, elections, Islamic, Muslims) in order to include as much published material as possible.
The monitoring showed that the four newspapers published 83 media items related to the participation of the National Coalition for Reform during the search period, as shown in Table No. (1).
Table No. (1): Items Published in the Press
|Number of Items||Newspaper|
The monitoring showed that the four electronic sites, which represent a sample of around 183 licensed sites in the Kingdom, published 98 media items on the same subject, as shown in Table No. (2).
Table No. (2): Items Published on News Sites
|Percentage %||Number of Items||Site|
The number of published items reveals the degree of interest in following news and information related to this subject. We should note here that some media outlets used the description "the unlicensed Brotherhood group," while other media outlets used the description "mother group."
The items that were collected in the monitoring were analyzed separately for newspapers and sites, while noting that some items were common. More accurately, the sites republished what was published by the newspapers, based on their estimation of their importance.
Newspaper Coverage: Press Format
News stories accounted for around 65% of the published material in the newspapers. This is consistent with the attempt by the media to deliver information in the fastest ways to the public without focusing on all the details and expanding on information. Meanwhile, reports accounted for 13%. There were no features in this connection. The priority of the press format of the published material varied from one newspaper to another. Articles accounted for 39% of published material in Al Dustour, 23% in Al Ghad, 18% in Al Rai, and around 10% in Al Sabeel.
Table No. (3): Material Published in the Newspapers Classified According to Press Format (News Story, Report, Article)
Standard of Bias and Neutrality
It involves avoiding bias or self-inclination and favoritism in news coverage or a single-angle vision, which is based on interests. Neutrality means all deliberate and non-deliberate practices that are free from motives of distortion, marginalization, exaggeration, or selectivity that serve a particular viewpoint. The position of newspapers in their coverage of the participation of the Islamic Action Front Party has varied. This has reflected on the published material, including articles. The details of some news stories and analyses contained descriptions that imply evaluation by using prejudgments and bias according to numerous methods of bias:
"Brotherhood Taqiyya" in Parliamentary Elections (Translator"s note: Taqiyya is a religious term originally meaning hiding one"s faith fearing persecution, but now extended politically to mean hiding one"s true intentions or motives)
The monitoring revealed that Al Rai, which is viewed as a newspaper closer to being pro-establishment, was largely biased against the group, by almost 50% of the published material. The material published in Al Dustour was biased by around 27%. As for Al Sabeel, which is close to the Muslim Brotherhood, its published material was biased in favor of the party and its election campaign by around 23% of the total published material. Al Ghad newspaper was more neutral and noticeably unbiased.
Table No. (4): Standard of Bias in Published Material in the Press
|Total||Biased Against Brotherhood||Biased in Favor of Brotherhood||Unbiased||Newspaper|
Function of Content of Published Material
The participation of the National Coalition for Reform has generated a broad political debate, with some supporting and others opposing this participation. Newspapers devoted large spaces to analysis, especially in published articles, which often reveal their attitude or editorial policy as newspapers publish analyses that reflect their positions. This was particularly the case with Al Rai and Al Sabeel. It was observed that their positions toward the coalition and the movement were diametrically opposed.
Table No. (5): Function of Content
|Total||Analysis & Interpretation||News||Newspaper|
Type of Sources (Identified or Anonymous)
Reliable and identified sources are a prominent feature of news that has credibility and that enjoys the confidence of the public. In this part of the monitoring, articles have been excluded from the standard of the presence of sources, although attributing information to its original sources is important in all types of press formats.
All newspapers, to varying degrees, have relied on anonymous and unidentified sources of their news in addressing the participation of the Islamic Action Front Party in the elections, such as anonymous, withheld, and collective sources. It was over 50% in Al Rai and reached 23% in Al Ghad, 18% in Al Dustour, and 5% in Al Sabeel. This affects the professionalism of published material, which requires dependence on reliable sources that have an established history of credibility. It also requires that information attributed to unknown sources be included in the least possible number of news items. The following are examples of an anonymous source:
Table No. (6): Sources (Identified or Anonymous)
|Total||Anonymous Sources||Identified Sources||Newspaper|
Standard of Balance
The conditions of professionalism in addressing such disputable issues require keenness on balance between sources and giving a chance to the opinions of different parties. This is meant to maintain the principle of balance in general and be eager to strike a balance between public and private interests. Balance means that the content must reflect the viewpoints of all parties equally, especially in political coverage that has to do with electoral competition, which is most sensitive. We should note here that balanced content does not always mean accurate content. (Consider, for example, the following item: Questions Over Legality of Unlicensed Brotherhood Members Running in Elections)
Table No. (7): Balance in Newspapers
Standard of Separation Between Opinions and News (Information)
Separation between news, whose material is information, and opinions is one of the rules of professional work, which the coverage of political seasons needs more than others. Confusing the two is misleading. This monitoring has shown that some items do not separate opinions from information. This appears in news items and reports, which were not placed clearly in a spot that indicates that they belong to articles and opinions, including:
Table No. (8): Separation Between Opinions and Information
|Total||No Separation Between Opinions and Information||Separation Between Opinions and Information||Newspaper|
Press material on media coverage further reveals the existence of unprofessional practices, which directly reflect on the right of the public to gain access to neutral, fair, and credible information. The following are a number of headlines of news stories and articles on the participation of the Brotherhood group in the parliamentary elections, which reflect the employment of the editorial content in electoral counterpropaganda.
Coverage of News Sites in Terms of Press Format
News accounted for 76% of items published on electronic sites on the National Coalition for Reform. This confirms that news sites have remained faithful to their traditions, which depend on fast and short news, even in controversial issues.
The table below shows the attempt by some sites (Khaberni and Saraya) to steer clear of adopting the positions of opinion writers and remain neutral to a certain extent by following their own editorial policy.
Table No. (9): Press Format on News Sites
|Total||Article||Feature and Report||News Story||Site|
Standard of Bias
The monitoring shows that there is varying bias from one site to another. While it was possible to classify 60% of the items on Ammon site as unbiased, 28% of the items on the site were biased against, and 12% biased in favor of, the Brotherhood. As for Al Bosala, which is close to Islamists, 15% of items were biased in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood. It was followed by Saraya, while Khaberni was the most neutral as its items recorded 4% bias in favor of the Brotherhood.
The following are examples of this:
Table No. (10): Bias
|Biased Against Brotherhood||Biased in Favor of Brotherhood||Unbiased||Site|
Function of Content
The news objective dominated the function of content on news sites. Meanwhile, analysis and interpretation totaled around 24%. Ammon took the lead by 40%, followed by Al Bosala, and then Khaberni and lastly Saraya. Examples of this type of items include:
Sometimes, reports published in daily newspapers were republished, such as:
Table No. (11): Function of Content on Sites
|Total||Analysis and Interpretation||News||Site|
Sources (Identified or Anonymous)
Identified sources in published material totaled around 77%, which is a good percentage, especially on news sites that publish news fast.
Table No. (12): Sources
|Total||Anonymous Sources||Identified Sources||Newspaper|
Standard of Balance
Short news is not interested in conveying different views and focuses on communicating fast and brief information. Usually, it does not require the opinion of another party.
Table No. (13): Balance on News Sites
Standard of Separating Opinion From Information
The monitoring showed that the published material on Al Bosala confused opinions with information the most. This constitutes a professional violation. In some cases, opinions were presented as information. This causes the delivery of inaccurate information to readers. Examples of this are the following:
Table No. (14): Separation Between Information and Opinions
|Total||Not Separating Information From Opinions||Separating Information From Opinions||Site|
It is common knowledge that the media is employed during the election period to influence the positions of voters and the progress of the electoral process by one party in the face of another with the aim of not allowing it to achieve its ambitions and goals. This conflicts with the professional and ethical objectives of the media. The closer the media is to commitment to professional and ethical standards the more independent it will be. The previous monitoring of covering the news of the Islamic Action Front in the daily press and on websites produces the following observations and conclusions:
First: Although many previous monitoring reports and studies stated that the daily press was more committed to professional and ethical standards than electronic news sites, coverage of the participation of the Islamic Action Front Party in the current elections showed that news sites were more committed to professional standards.
Second: There is an ongoing global debate over the boundaries of neutrality and the extent of its realization on the ground. Some media outlets, even in well-established democracies, express their position, which is close to a political party or candidate, but this position does not go as far as the media outlet sacrificing professional standards or for the outlet to turn into a part of propaganda campaigns.
Third: Clear bias (in favor of or against), not separating opinions from information, and the weak balance in coverage of the elections affect the right of the public to have access to independent and fair information and do not allow the media to fulfill one of its most important tasks in providing free, multiple, and independent platforms for public debate.
Fourth: This monitoring has highlighted some unprofessional media practices, which play a role in misleading people during the election season. This season requires that the media show greater sensitivity to professional issues and stand at the same distance from all political forces and trends.