The average Alaska public media news outlet reported more than two dozen bias stories per hour in the first six months of 2017, according to a report by the Alaska Public Media Research Project (APMPR).
Those stories included coverage of Alaska’s public health emergency, the coronavirus pandemic and the federal government’s efforts to combat climate change.
In the first quarter of 2017 alone, those stories were read by nearly 1,000 people in the Alaskan community, and that figure was up from about 700 in the same quarter of 2016.
While some of those stories included news about Alaska’s efforts against the coronas virus, the APMPR says most were biased in favor of one side or another.
“Alaska’s public media is at an all-time high in terms of bias,” said Alaskans Against Media Bias executive director Robyn Kelleher.
“The news isn’t always balanced, and we need to take steps to fix that.”
In fact, some of the most egregious bias stories have been in Alaska’s oil-rich, Democratic-leaning region.
For example, a local reporter in the capital of Fairbanks, Nome, was fired from the local media outlet after he wrote about the recent coronavaccine outbreak in the state.
“It’s not fair to a reporter to go through the same hardships every single day as everyone else,” Kellehe said.
He continued, “The public needs to know that our media is not impartial.”
A public interest news outlet’s mission is to provide impartial and fact-based coverage of important public issues.
The APMPS report also found that public media coverage of the coronave outbreak and the coronaval virus, both of which are highly contagious, is often based on personal, unverified sources.
“This bias could be amplified in certain circumstances, such as when a public health official is not being held accountable for the actions of a particular individual,” the report stated.
Kelleh told Al Jazeera that public health officials should “take a more active role in reporting the news and making sure that the stories are true”.
In the United States, there are a number of federal agencies that can be sued for violating the federal Freedom of Information Act, including the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is responsible for collecting, handling and protecting public records.
The Department of Justice has a similar FOIA case against the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which has a FOIA exemption for its coronaviruses.
“Public health officials have an obligation to protect the public from inaccurate or false information that could have an adverse effect on public health and safety,” Kealhe said, pointing out that the federal agencies are also responsible for ensuring the accuracy of information released by the state of Alaska.
Kailher also highlighted the need for transparency in media reporting and accountability in public agencies.
“I don’t think there is a reason that the public shouldn’t be able to know exactly who is making decisions about their health and their health care,” she said.
The state’s public radio stations have been criticized in the past for failing to provide accurate information about the state’s coronaviral situation.
In October, the Anchorage Daily News published a series of articles about the pandemic that relied on unsubstantiated claims by the city’s mayor, who claimed that the coronvirus had already passed from Alaska to the mainland United States.
The articles, which also cited anonymous sources, were widely circulated, with the news media reporting them on a daily basis.
In December, the same newspaper published a story about the coronavia outbreak in Anchorage, which claimed that “the virus is not even in Alaska.”
The article was widely circulated in the media, with more than 20,000 views on the Daily News Facebook page alone.
In April, the Alaska Department of Public Health said that it was “aware of a handful of stories about coronavar strains circulating in the Anchorage area that are not accurate and should not be used as a basis for public health decisions.”
However, the department did not state whether or not the stories had been verified by the public health agency, and said it would not respond to a request for comment.
“We have a number and issues with our public media reporting,” said Kathy Miller, communications director for the Alaska Division of Public Safety, which oversees Alaska’s two public media outlets.
“At this time, we are still reviewing the content of our public news releases and have no plans to change our approach to reporting coronavars in Alaska.
The public is encouraged to continue to follow local and state public health authorities and the CDC for the latest news and information about coronave virus outbreaks.”
“If there is anything we can do, the state should be encouraging the public to get the information from public health sources, not from sources they can’t trust,” Miller said.
“There is a lot of misinformation being spread, and the public needs the information.” Kellehere