Diction and bias in Ebola news

By SHIVANI ALURU

The tendency for Western reporters to frame news within a Western perspective is completely expected, but presents a problem in terms of bias. When the lens that a person views the world through is so intuitive and as instinctual as breathing, it is difficult to separate facts from perceived truths. Perceived truths, in this instance, are what people fundamentally believe is real and true despite any lack of pure factual evidence.

A pressing example of this problem has emerged in the Ebola news circulation. Whatever the medium from newspapers to five-minute YouTube clips, nearly every report frames the Ebola outbreak and the handful of American and European cases as the fault of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, including┬áseveral news outlets that have also conflated the area into “West Africa.”

This overwhelming pattern is dangerous especially in the case of Africa, a continent that has long been subjected to Western prejudices and is still working towards elevating its status in the world. The average person in the U.S. often lenses Africa as a place of terrible poverty, war and chaos and this perspective is highly toxic. It permeates every facet of life and in particular news. The curious thing about presenting Ebola news in the U.S. is that everything comes back to vaguely racial tones, despite the fact that Ebola affects most humans the same way. Regardless of physical location, importance or appearance pretty much every human will die the same way if he or she contracts Ebola, making every news report that hints at American invincibility almost funny.

There are no reasonable solutions to this problem, at least not ones that wouldn’t take years to see through, and as such this entire issue become food for thought, specifically concerning how subtle word choices can affect the direction of a piece.

Journalism always has a vaguely emotional tone because humans are emotional by nature and all biases, despite striving to keep them covered, show through.