Can you recognize biased news?


This time Propastop is offering our readers the opportunity to personally try it out. Below are three headlines that have actually appeared in the Estonian news media last year, all of which have arrived to the press council for one reason or another. Which of these headlines would you consider biased, if you know all of the news they refer to?

  1. „Builders in the day time, drunken drivers and thieves in the evening“  Postimees, 02.10.2018
  2. „ EKRE goes on the Parliamentary electoral campaign with an empty wallet or professional assistance“ EPL, Delfi, 17.05.2018
  3. „Stolitsa’s chief editor Aleksandr Tšaplõgin and his friends rejoiced in social media over the death of Babtšenko“ Delfi, 30.05.2018

Find the correct answers are at the end of this posting.

Is the Estonian media biased?

From time to time, the opinion of a politician or public figure shows up in the media, where they claim that the Estonian press is biased towards one or another person or an over-sympathy or antipathy of an organization is brought out in the media. Different media outlets, in most cases have their own clearly defined worldview expressed in their editors’ editorials. Of course, everyone’s personal preferences, sympathies and antipathies can be different from that of journalists, but when posting the news, a professional journalist leaves their personal opinions aside.

The Estonian Journalists Code of Ethics, which journalists adhere to in their activities states in section 1.4 that the journalist is responsible for their words and stories? The press organization ensures that inaccurate, distorted or misleading information does not appear publicly.

This does not mean that journalists should be a robot who have no right to their own opinion. On the contrary, a good journalist keeps up with the various happenings in the world, is curious and a person with keen sense of things. As journalists have learned to express themselves clearly, they often become opinion leaders in societies where their opinions on different topics are expected and appreciated. It is important to have a clear understanding of when a journalist represents his or her personal opinion and when they are presenting information about the news.

Section 4.1 of the Code of Ethics for Journalism requires that news, opinions and assumptions must be clearly distinguishable. News material is based on factual information that can be proved and supported by evidence. As a rule, this principle is adhered to, but sometimes a journalist or publication has made mistakes and not followed the code of conduct. In Estonia, journalists have set up a press council as a self-regulatory body, which readers can turn to if they believe that the Code of Ethics for Journalism has been compromised.

What to do if you notice misleading news?
What to do when a news story starts showing something inaccurate, distorted or misleading? Alternatively, if a journalist has mixed up an opinion or a news story. First of all, you should turn to the journalist or the editorial office – the story will have contact details of the author or editor.

Once in contact, it could be pointed out how the statement is wrong or inaccurate, if possible to include the section of the Code of Ethics of Journalism where the story is in contradiction with. Since most errors are accidental, it is enough that it has been pointed out and they fix the mistake themselves. If there is a dispute, then clarity can be achieved by contacting the press council. Finally, you can always seek legal means and defend your truths in court.

The correct answers to the readers’ game
To choose one story, then headline number 2 was wrecked by good press practice. The press council, which looked over the EKRE complaint, decided that Eesti Päevaleht and Delfi violated clause 4.11 of the Code of Ethics of Journalism, which provides that headlines might not mislead the readership. According to the press council, the headline does not reflect the content of the article, because it does not prove that EKRE’s wallet is empty. The 20,000 € in their account gives basis to refute the claim that they were campaigning with an empty wallet. The full decision can be acquainted with here.

In regards to the other stories, the press council was not mistaken, there are verifiable facts proving a lapse in journalistic code of ethics. Full decisions can be found here and here.

In total, the press council overviewed 81 complaints last year with more than half being acquitted. They found 22 violations of the Code of Ethics.  You can find all of the statistics here. In fact, of course not all news stories that are inadvertently or deliberately biased reach the press council. Most of the information in the Estonian media is certainly balanced and accurate.

Images: screenshots of articles.