Monday, April 27, 2015

Political Bias in Chilean Newspapers

Patricio Navia and Rodrigo Osorio, "El Mercurio Lies and La Tercera Lies More: Political Bias in Newspaper Headlines in Chile, 1994-2010." Bulletin of Latin American Research early view.


In this article we examine the presence of bias in Chile's two main daily newspapers, El Mercurio and La Tercera, both of which have historically been associated with the political right. We analyse their principal headlines in the first 100 days of rule of presidents Eduardo Frei (1994–2000), Ricardo Lagos (2000–2006), Michelle Bachelet (2006–2010) and Sebastián Piñera (2010–2014). We find that La Tercera was more critical of all these presidents than El Mercurio. In La Tercera we also identify an ideological bias in favour of Piñera as compared to the centre-left presidents, and in El Mercurio a greater bias against Bachelet than the other presidents.

The bottom line of the article is that the main Chilean papers are conservative and their bias reflects that, albeit to different extents.

Media coverage of governments is not confined to the issues that are the subject of their headlines. In addition, the emphases of La Tercera and El Mercurio differ, and this affects bias. In general, during the period analysed, La Tercera had a more negative bias than El Mercurio, regardless of the president's ideology or sex. However, the evidence presented suggests that the widespread public belief that Chilean newspapers are right-wing is a simplification. We find, in fact, that El Mercurio shows a rather positive bias in its coverage of all four presidents. La Tercera, on the other hand, carried headlines that were more favourable during the government of Piñera than those of his predecessors. Even when controlling for the issues addressed in the two newspapers' headlines, there is a positive bias towards his honeymoon period in La Tercera. 
The ideological leanings of the controllers of Chilean newspapers do not suffice to explain bias in their headlines. Both newspapers are right-wing, but La Tercera was more critical of Concertación governments than El Mercurio. In the 1960s, El Mercurio's coverage in favour of right-wing positions led student leaders to the denunciation that ‘El Mercurio lies’. Today, the evidence of the right-wing bias in the two newspapers' headlines would lead those same critics who associated defence of right-wing positions with lying to say that, if El Mercuriolies, La Tercera lies more.

It's an interesting article, and it generated several questions for me. One is whether there is any correlation between the coverage and approval ratings. Another is how much these two papers dominate readership (or not). Finally, what explain the difference of bias in two ideologically similar newspapers?


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