Message or opinion?

“Senate chairman Jaroslav Kubera (ODS) is an old fox. On New Year’s Day, he pretended to be speaking to the nation from his office in the upper chamber of parliament, then recorded and broadcast by Czech Television. Bollocks! Anyone who knows how to read between the lines realized this was an illegal video smuggled onto public broadcast by brave fighters against progressivism.” This is the beginning of Alexandr Mitrofanov’s commentary for Novinky.  

How is this different from a regular summary about the fact that Jaroslav Kubera took a stance against social networks and global climate change? Firstly, it differs in the words used – bollocksold fox and the illegally smuggled video by brave fighters against progressivism are evidently language tools that don’t belong in common news reporting. However, they do play an important role in commentaries, columns, opinion pieces and many other works that are based on a model that is different than news reporting.  

Between the commentary and report, it is clearly trying to point out Czech Radio’s Codex, which is a document stating how public media broadcasts should behave in regard to ethics: “Czech Radio strictly differentiates between information of a news character (report) and an evaluative judgment (commentary). A report is understood as information on a certain event or state of affairs that also usually contains information on the stances of the main actors of the event, which is the subject of the report. Passing off mere assumptions as reports is not allowed. An evaluative judgment expresses opinions, attitudes or feelings. In its broadcast and for its listeners, Czech Radio clearly and distinctly differentiates reports from evaluative commentaries. It is especially forbidden to mix a report and evaluative judgment in one sentence by an editor.” 

This text is a good example of several points that we should consider while perceiving media. Firstly – while we commonly learn in school to differentiate between a commentary, opinion piece, essay and many other formats, which is certainly practical and important, with media we must differentiate only between two formats – reporting content and commentary content. Commentary is everything that is associated with the author’s own opinion of such media content. It does not have to be balanced, serious, to-the-point or objective. At the same time, however, the person stands behind this message with his or her own reputation and credibility.  


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Serious media clearly mark texts that are opinion pieces. For example, The New York Times  does this with the help of right menu. Source: KISK. 


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An example of quick reporting on The Wall Street Journal. Notice how short, factual and emotionless the sentences are. Source: KISK. 

On the contrary, reporting should be as factual as possible. This, however, hides a certain problem – what does this mean? Formal objectivity is still not factual objectivity. For example, if a large demonstration is to be held against the owner of a newspaper and the front page runs an article about new rules for first-aid kits in cars or a warm weather spell, it’s not an unobjective report, but at the same time is strongly manipulating the reader. A large part of present media manipulation is about what is actually omitted from the discussion and how this is done, not about manipulation in the sense of making up unbalanced news reports.  

The third important piece of information from this point in the codex is the clear differentiation between a report and an opinion. Generally, this is something almost all media strive towards, but the border between them cannot always be drawn clearly and distinctly. On the other hand, for example, there are opinionated media outlets that don’t make such differentiations.  

For example, in Britain or the USA, there are relatively clear borders between media outlets according to their political focus. This doesn’t mean that commentaries from the Republican media on Donald Trump have always been favorable or that the news only reports his successes. But, it does capture a broad sentiment – the killing of an Iranian politician in Iraq may be murder, political aggression in an autonomous country, or an expression of the fight against terrorism. In reality, it’s all of these things. But perspectives are inherently diverse and a person has to learn to differentiate between them.  


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