Sunday, May 10, 2015

It's the Media wot won it for Cameron

One response to this horrendous 2015 general election result is to assert  that the voters have been unduly influenced by right-wards bias in the media.

Can we substantiate this claim?


First, the 3:1 R:L newspaper readership figures. For every reader of left-leaning newspapers there are three readers of right-leaning newspapers. This is clearly unbalanced and bad for democracy.

Defenders of this situation claim that there is no evidence that newspapers influence their readers' opinions. This is not true. Studies show that newspapers do influence readers' perceptions of "salience" - that is, what is seen as important. Therefore, if the Green Party's serious policy proposals are  not reported in the papers, they are  not seen as important.

One straw in the wind that indicates a right wing bias in the media generally is that the media driven election agenda left out stuff like Climate Change, Fracking, Austerity and Corruption.

Second, we need to look at bias in broadcast media.

Coverage of the Green Party in TV and radio political commentary programmes can be measured.

A reasonable proxy, that can easily be retrieved, is to demand that the BBC (and other channels, perhaps, but the BBC is key, as a public service broadcaster that is expected to be neutral) should present figures of interviews given to the leaders of the Green Party and of UKIP on programmes such as Today, World at One, Any Questions, PM, Newsnight, Question Time and Hard Talk since May 2010.

The position in May 2010 between the Green Party and Ukip was roughly comparable. Ukip led slightly in the polls, but we had one MP. We should therefore have been given roughly equal coverage.

I predict that we will find a gross imbalance in the figures.

I will be doing this as an individual citizen in the interests of BBC impartiality, not on behalf of the Green Party, because the Party would be expected to be further punished and excluded were it to make any critical noises.

Third, Media Studies departments need to study, or publish if the studies have already been done, the "Interruption Rate" of big interviewers such as Humphrys, Neil, Paxman etc in their interviews. The Interruption Rate (IR) is a clear metric, It can be matched against the position of the interviewee on a right-left spectrum. Here are my findings for Andrew Neil on Natalie Bennett.

I predict that the IR will be higher on politicians on the left.

The Green manifesto sought to tighten laws on cross media ownership so that no individual or company could own more than 20% of the media; to implement Leveson, and "Maintain the BBC as the primary public service broadcaster, free of government interference, with funding guaranteed in real terms in statute to prevent government interference."

This is a reasonable start, though I feel 20% is too generous. I would add a requirement to put the name of the proprietor on each mast head of a newspaper.

So here we have one established fact, and two lines of enquiry that support the idea that the UK media is biased to the right, and that this bias must be corrected.

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