Why perceived political bias on TV does not inevitably lead to a polarized audience. The case of NRK and TV2 in Norway

Anders Todal Jenssen 1  and Toril Aalberg 2
  • 1 Department of Sociology and Political Science, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway
  • 2 Toril Aalberg, Department of Sociology and Political Science, Trondheim, Norway
Anders Todal Jenssen
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Sociology and Political Science, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway
  • Email
  • Search for other articles:
  • degruyter.comGoogle Scholar
and Toril Aalberg
  • Toril Aalberg, Department of Sociology and Political Science, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway
  • Email
  • Search for other articles:
  • degruyter.comGoogle Scholar

Abstract

This paper investigates whether political polarization of the TV audience is emerging also in a typical democratic corporatist system. The study is motivated by the claim put forward by several US scholars, who argue that in today’s high choice information environments, partisans tend to see mainstream media as ‘hostile’ and therefore seek out and select broadcasters who confirm and deepen their worldview (Arceneaux and Johnson, 2013; Iyengar and Hahn, 2009; Tewksbury and Riles, 2015). This demand, they argue, expands the market for partisan TV and contributes to growing political polarization. We ask if there is evidence of a politically polarized Norwegian TV audience, by exploring the relationship between partisan preferences, perceived political bias and selective exposure to TV news. We find that many Norwegians believe that both the public broadcaster and the leading commercial broadcasters are politically biased. Consistent with the “hostile media hypothesis”, people on the right accuse the broadcasters of favoring the parties on the left, whereas people of the left tend to see the broadcasters as favoring the parties on the right, albeit not to the same degree. By using a survey experiment, our study also demonstrates that given the opportunity, the audience does select news stories consistent with their political beliefs from a politically ‘friendly’ broadcaster. However, they also choose news stories consistent with their political beliefs from a perceived hostile news source over politically inconsistent stories from a friendly source. This suggests that ‘friendly’ content triumphs perception of broadcaster bias. Despite widespread perceptions of partisan favoritism in the Norwegian TV market, we find few traces of a politically polarized audience. The main reason for this is that the public broadcaster still draws a wide audience across the political spectrum, as even critics consider this news source as too important and relevant to be ignored.

  • Aalberg, T., & Curran, J. (Eds.) (2012). How media inform democracy: A comparative approach. New York: Routledge.

  • Aalberg, T., Van Aelst, P., & Curran, J. (2010). Media systems and the political information environment: A cross-national comparison. International Journal of Press/Politics, 15, 255–271.

  • Aardal, B. (1999). Politikerforakt og politisk mistillit [Contempt for politicians and political distrust]. In B. Aardal (Ed.), Velgere i 90-årene (pp. 166–191). Oslo: NKS-forelaget.

  • Aardal, B. (2003). Kritiske velgere [Critical Citizens]. In B. Aardal (Ed.), Velgere i villrede. En analyse av stortingsvalget 2001 (pp. 207–224). Oslo: Damm.

  • Adorno, T. W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D. J., and Sanford, R. N. (1950). The authoritarian personality. Oxford, England: Harpers.

  • Albæk, E., Hopmann, D. N., & De Vreese, C. H. (2010). Kunsten at holde balancen. Dækningen af folketingsvalgkampe i tv-nyhederne på DR1 og TV2: 1994–2007. Odense: University Press of Southern Denmark.

  • Arceneaux, K., & Johnson, M. (2013). Changing minds or changing channels? Partisan news in an age of choice. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

  • Baron, D. P. (2006). Persistent media bias. Journal of Public Economics, 90(1–2), 1–36

  • Bastiansen, H. G., & Dahl, H. F. (2003). Norsk mediehistorie [Norwegian media history]. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

  • Bennett, W. L., & Iyengar, S. (2008). A new era of minimal effects? The changing foundations of political communication. Journal of Communication, 58(4), 707–731.

  • Blalock, H. M. (1989). Power and conflict. Sage Pubs.

  • Brekken, T., Thorbjørnsrud, K., & Aalberg, T. (2012). News substance: The relative importance of soft and de-contextualized news. In T. Aalberg & J. Curran (Eds.), How media inform democracy: A comparative approach (pp. 64–78). New York: Routledge.

  • Bos, L., & de Vreese Claes, K. S. (2016). Nation binding: How public service broadcasting mitigates political selective exposure. PLoS ONE, 11(5), e0155112.

  • Curran, J., Coen, S., Soroka, S., Aalberg, T., Hayashi, K., … & Tiffen, R. (2014). Reconsidering ‘virtuous circle’ and ‘media malaise’ theories of the media: An 11-nation study. Journalism, 15(7), 815–833.

  • Dahl, H. F. (2015). Fra ARK til journalisme [From ARK to journalism]. Retrieved September 20, 2016 from https://www.nrk.no/ytring/fra-ark-til-journalisme-1.12334167.

  • D’Alessio, D., & Allen, M. (2000). Media bias in presidential elections: A meta-analysis. Journal of Communication, 50(4), 133–156.

  • Dalton, R. J., Beck, P. A., & Huckfeldt, R. (1998). Partisan cues and the media: Information flows in the 1992 presidential election. The American Political Science Review, 92 (1), 111–126.

  • Entman, R. M. (2007). Framing bias: Media in the distribution of power. Journal of Communication, 57(1), 163–173.

  • Eysenck, H. J. (1955). The psychology of politics. Transaction publishers.

  • Flaxman, S., Goel, S., & Rao, J. (2016). Filter bubbles, echo chambers, and online news consumption. Public Opinion Quarterly, nfw006.

  • Garrett, R. K. (2009). Politically motivated reinforcement seeking: Reframing the selective exposure debate. Journal of Communication, 59(4), 676–699.

  • Garrett, R. K., Carnahan, D., & Lynch, EK. (2013). A turn toward avoidance? Selective exposure to online political information, 2004–2008. Political Behavior, 35(1), 113–134.

  • Garrett, R. K., Gvirsman, S. D., Johnson, B. K., Tsfati, Y., Neo, R., & Dal, A. (2014). Implications of pro- and counterattitudinal information exposure for affective polarization. Human Communication Research, 40(3), 309–332.

  • Gnisci, A., van Dalen, A., & Di Conza, A. (2014). Interviews in a polarized television market. The Anglo-American watchdog model put to the testPolitical Communication, 31(1), 112–130.

  • Goldman, S. K., & Mutz, D. C. (2011). The friendly media phenomenon: A cross-national analysis of cross-cutting exposure. Political Communication, 28(1), 42–66.

  • Groeling, T. (2013). Media bias by the numbers: Challenges and opportunities in the empirical study of partisan news. Annual Review of Political Science, 16(1), 129–151.

  • Groseclose, T., & Milyo, J. (2005). A measure of media bias. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 120(4), 1191–1237.

  • Hagen, I. (1994). The ambivalences of TV news viewing: Between ideals and everyday practices. European Journal of Communication, 9(2), 193–220.

  • Hallin, D. C., & Mancini, P. (2004). Comparing media systems. Three models of media and politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Heider, F. (1960). The gestalt theory of motivation. In M. R. Jones (Ed.), Nebraska symposium on motivation (pp. 145–172). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

  • Hirsti, R. (1991). Partipisken. Kampen om det frie ord i Arbeiderbladet [The party whip. The struggle for free expression in the “workersʼ newspaperˮ Arbeiderbladet]. Oslo: Gyldendal Norsk Forlag.

  • Holbert, R. L., Garrett, R. K., &Gleason, L. S. (2010). A new era of minimal effects? A response. Journal of Communication, 60(1), 15–34.

  • Hopmann, D. N., Van Aelst, P., & Legnante, G. (2012). Political balance in the news: A review of concepts, operationalizations and key findings. Journalism, 13(2), 240–257.

  • Hopmann, D. N., Van Aelst, P., Salgado, S., & Legante, G. (2016). Political balance. In C. de Vreese, F. Esser & D. Nicolas Hopmann (Eds.), Comparing political journalism (pp. 92–111). New York: Routledge.

  • Ihlen, Ø., Allern, S., Thorbjørnsrud, K., & Waldahl, R. (2010). The world on television: Market-driven, public service news. Nordicom Review, 31(2), 31–45.

  • Iyengar, S., & Hahn, K. S. (2009). Red media, blue media: Evidence of ideological selectivity in media use. Journal of Communication, 59(1), 19–39.

  • Jenssen, A. T. (2012). Widening or closing the knowledge gap? The role of TV and newspapers in changing the distribution of political knowledge. Nordicom Review, 33(1), 19–36.

  • Karlsen, R., & Aalberg, T. (2015). Selektiv eksponering for medievalgkampen [Selective exposure during the mediatized campaign]. In B. Aardal & J. Bergh (Eds.), Valg og velgere. En studie av stortingsvalget 2013 (pp. 119–133). Oslo: Cappelen Damm.

  • Kuklinski, J. H., & Sigelman, L. (1992). When objectivity is not objective: Network television news coverage of US senators and the “paradox of objectivity”. Journal of Politics, 5(4), 810–833.

  • Langslett, L. R. (1994). Fra innsiden. Glimt fra et halvt liv i politikken [On the inside. Glimpses from half a life in politics]. Oslo: Cappelen.

  • Lelkes, Y. G. (2016). The Polls-review. Mass polarization: Manifestations and measurements. Public Opinion Quarterly, March 15, 1–19.

  • Lelkes, Y., Sood, G., & Iyengar, S. (2015). The hostile audience: The effect of access to broadband internet on partisan affect. American Journal of Political Science, 1–16.

  • LeVine, R. A., & Campbell, D. T. (1972). Ethnocentrism: Theories of conflict, ethnic attitudes, and group behavior. The Journal of Politics, 35(4), 1022–1024.

  • Listhaug, O., & Aardal, B. (2011). Politisk tillit – Et mål på demokratiets helsetilstand? [Political trust – an indicator of the well-being of democracy?] In B. Aardal (Ed.), Det politiske landskap (pp. 291–304). Oslo: Damm.

  • Lund, E., & Siune, K. (1977). Objektivitet – et spørgsmål om kontekst? [Objectivity – a question of context?] Pressens Årbog 1977 (pp. 192–199). Copenhagen: Dansk pressehistorisk Selskab.

  • Midtbø, T. (2011). Explaining media attention for Norwegian MPs: A new modelling approach. Scandinavian Political Studies, 34(3), 226–249.

  • Minkenberg, M., & Inglehart, R. (1989). Neoconservatism and value change in the USA: Tendencies in the mass public of a postindustrial society. In J. R. Gibbins (Ed.), Contemporary political culture. Politics in a postmodern age (pp. 81–109). London: Sage.

  • Mudde, C. (2004). The populist zeitgeist. Government and Opposition, 39(4), 542–563.

  • Müller, J.-W. (2016). What is populism? Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

  • Niven, D. (2001). Bias in the news: Partianship and negativity in media coverage of presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton. Press/Politics, 6(1), 31–46.

  • Niven, D. (2003). Tilt. The search for media bias. Westport, CT: Praeger.

  • Nord, L., & Strömbäck, J. (2003). Valfeber och nyhetsfrossa. Politisk kommunikation i valrörelsen 2002 [Election fever and news drought. Political communication during the 2002 campaign]. Stockholm: Sellin.

  • Patterson, T. E., & Donsbach, W. (1996). News decisions: Journalists as partisan actors. Political Communication, 13(4), 453–468.

  • Prior, M. (2007). Post-broadcast democracy. How media choice increases ineqality in political involvement and polarizes elctions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Raaum, O. (1999). Pressen er løs! Fronter i journalistenes faglige frigjøring [The press is let loose! Fronts in journalistsʼ professional liberation]. Oslo: Pax Forlag AS.

  • Rokeach, M. (1960). The open and closed mind. Oxford, England: Basic Books.

  • Rowland, W. D., & Tracey, M. (1990). Worldwide challenges to public service broadcasting. Journal of Communication, 40(2), 8–42.

  • Sabel, B. (2005). Et hundeliv. Norske journalister fra 1975 til 2005 [A dogʼs life. Norwegian journalists from 1975 until 2005]. Kristiansand: Høyskoleforlaget.

  • Slagstad, R. (1998). De nasjonale strateger [The national strategists]. Oslo: Pax.

  • Slater, M. D. (2007). Reinforcing spirals: The Mutual Influences of media selectivity and media effects and their impact on individual behavior and social identity. Communication Theory, 17, 281–303.

  • Soroka, S., Andrew, B., Aalberg, T., Iyengar, S., Curran, J., Coen, S., & Tiffen, R. (2013). Auntie knows best? Public broadcasters and current affairs knowledge. British Journal of Political Science, 43, 719–739.

  • Starkey, G. (2007). Balance and bias in journalism: Representation, regulation and democracy. Hampshire, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Stouffer, S. A. (1955). Communism, conformity, and civil liberties: A cross-section of the nation speaks its mind. New Brunswick, London: Transaction Publishers.

  • Sullivan, J. L., Piereson, J., & Marcus, G. E. (1993). Political tolerance and American democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Syvertsen, T., Enli, G., Mjøs, O. J., & Moe, J. (2014). The media welfare state. Nordic media in the digital era. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

  • Tewksbury, D. & Riles, J. M. (2015). Polarization as a function of citizen predispositions and exposure to news on the internet. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 59(3), 381–398.

  • Thomas, W. I. and Thomas, D.S. (1928). The child in America: Behavior problems and programs. New York: Knopf.

  • Vallone, R. P., Ross, L., & Lepper, M. R. (1985). The hostile media phenomenon: Biased perception and perceptions of media bias in coverage of the Beirut massacre. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49(3), 577–585.

  • Van Aelst, P., Strömbäck, J., Aalberg, T., Esser, F., de Vreese, C., Matthes, J., … & Stanyer, J. (2017). Political communication in a high-choice media environment: A challenge for democracy? Annals of the International Communication Association, 41(1), 3–27.

  • van Kempen, H. (2007). Media-party parallelism and its effects: A cross-national comparative study. Political Communication, 24(3), 303–320.

  • Waldahl, R., Bruun Andersen, M., & Rønning, H. (2009). TV-nyhetenes verden [The world in the TV news]. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Purchase article
Get instant unlimited access to the article.
$42.00
Log in
Already have access? Please log in.


Journal + Issues

The European Journal of Communication Research is an established forum for scholarship and academic debate in the field of communication science and research from a European perspective. Communications highlights the concerns of communication science through the publication of articles, research reports, review essays and book reviews on theoretical and methodological developments considered from a European perspective.

Search