Taking a look at the media coverage of the 2017 general election, and understanding how it is constructing its own reality of the events leading up to it; and perhaps influencing ours.
Loughborough University are conducting an investigation into the media coverage on the 2017 General Election, publishing weekly reports that will analyse the past week’s coverage; both televised and in newspapers, commenting on the events leading up to June 8th.
The audit is being led by Professors David Deacon, John Downey, James Stanyer and Dominic Wring. The aim of their investigation is to analyse and identify changes and similarities in political reporting over the decades.
“For most people the media is their primary source of information when it comes to deciding who to vote for. Therefore the role and importance of the media in elections should not be underestimated. Being able to see who and what is making the headlines is very important.” Professor Wring.
First to be addressed is the media coverage offered to each party; primarily page space and airtime is dominated by Labour and Conservative. Little attention is offered to Lib Dems or Greens, who in recent years have not gained as many votes, therefore seats; during local or general elections.
Dedicating more coverage to what in the UK are deemed the two main parties, may be affecting party results in the elections as not enough information is being given regarding the other choices people have when voting.
As most people rely on the TV, online media and newspapers for information regarding the election, this may be swaying public decisions when it comes to who they are voting for.
- The Conservatives dominated mainstream news media coverage in the first week of the campaign.
- Analysis of the issues confirms the extent that Brexit has dominated the media campaign in this initial period.
- All the minor parties had a reduced presence in the first week of the 2017 campaign, when compared with the same period of the 2015 General Election.
- More than half of all the politicians reported about in the national press came from the Conservative party.
Analysis from Loughborough University’s investigation also found Theresa May was the most directly quoted politician from all parties in the running for the election.
To suggest that more than half of all the politicians reported about in the national press came from the Conservative party, is quite disturbing. For an industry that should be objective, this means offer equal exposure for all parties, in order to fulfil their purpose of informing the public on all they need to know.
The public has a right to vote for any of these parties, meaning they should be provided with information regarding each, however it could be suggested the media is bias towards this election given the overall dominance they are affording the Conservative party. If this is the party people are most reading about it could affect the decision making abilities of their audience. Such influence has been observed in general elections in the past.
As the election draws closer, the stories and coverage of the event and those connected; parties and individuals (in particular party leaders) only increases and intensifies.
As more parties published their manifestos, the coverage has levelled out a little, though still only focusing primarily on news concerning the Labour party and the Conservatives. Loughborough University continued the following week to observe the content of newspapers and TV and news coverage and observed some of the changes taking place, once the manifestos were released.
- As a general trend, newspapers have focused more coverage on attacking the parties they disapprove of, than reporting positive issues connected to the parties they support.
- The breakdown of the levels of coverage in individual newspapers reveals nuances in their partisanship. The Sun and The Express have particularly emphasised attacking Labour. The Mail has been similarly hostile to Labour but has had more positive emphasis in their reporting of the Conservatives. The surplus of positive coverage in The Times for the Conservative party, exceeds the amount of negativity to Labour.
- The direction of press reporting of Labour show that a considerable majority of this coverage has been critical of the party and its manifesto.
Positive and Negative Coverage
The results of their investigation indicated there were more negative reports to be observed than there were positive, suggesting a popular tactic of the press has been to use dysphemism and attack opposing parties; as oppose to championing and celebrating the party they are in support of.
It could suggest they believe this is a more prominent tactic of success, and gaining support in the audience for the party they wish to persuade voters towards. The reason why this works, or why they believe it does is less unclear.
Tom Stafford presents some interesting components to consider when asking why the reason for this is.
Do we want to hear it, or were we forced into believing we did?
He suggests the reason is that journalists, for competitive reasons, believe disaster is a more newsworthy events that captures their audience’s attention and sells more copies of their story.
He also presents the idea that we as a nation obsessed with the celebrity, find it easier to engage with stories that arouse suspicion and blame. He asks “could be that newsgatherers believe that cynical reports of corrupt politicians or unfortunate events make for simpler stories?”
Or is it simply that journalists are responding to audience demands? Is it a case that over the years we have learnt people are far more interested in hearing bad news than they are good?
Marc Trussler and Stuart Soroka conducted an experiment to explore the phenomenon. From their findings they concluded people often responded more to news stories with a negative tone, than ones with a neutral or positive one.
The results gave evidence for the existence of what scientists have called negativity-bias. This term was coined to describe people’s collective desire to hear and remember bad news, our physiology and psychology possesses a predisposition to have a greater response to what we perceive as negative stimuli.
Interpretation of reality
Perhaps it is unfair to suggest the reality of the general election envisaged within the media, is all entirely fabricated or manipulated or flawed.
We all possess internal realities, that can influence the way we see our external reality. While there is a consensus of reality between us that we all agree on, our personal differences and viewpoints may alter the way we interpret the world around us.
This process is portrayed in the media. Several news corporations report on the same event, but there can be differences between their stories, depending on the angles and perspectives taken. Texts are a representation of the world around us, but each article is only one interpretation of that reality. They are often written from a keyhole point of view and cannot be relied upon to show the whole picture.
Similarly, the audience that then encounters these stories, will take from it, their own interpretations of the message being conveyed.
Reality can be multifaceted, meaning each different viewpoint can possess its own element of truth. There can be many ways, we as individuals absorb events and the world around us, depending on our own experiences
This is what led Thomas Luckman and Peter Berger to propose the idea that reality is a social construct.
With that in mind it stands to reason that individual news corporations, depending on their own views and subjective opinions, will observe these events in different lights. It is for the reader to decide for themselves to take from it what they will.