CSJCC – EU Referendum Analysis – TV coverage

Some articles on TV media content:

Scrutinising statistical claims and constructing balance: television news coverage of the 2016 EU Referendum – Lewis and Cushion (page 40)

  • The economy was the major issue – representing over a fifth of coverage 
    • Immigration was 1/10 stories
  • ‘beyond the issues, personalities and party-politics involved in the Referendum coverage, it was perhaps the lack of scrutiny by non-partisan sources that was most conspicuous by their absence’
    • More independent actors – from think tanks, say, or academics – made up a tiny share of sources used to inform coverage
    • ‘Since 4 in 10 items featured a statistical claim about the EU, the burden of independent scrutiny was thus left to journalists … 3 in 4 items involving statistical claims were not subject to either further analysis or additional context’
    • In effect, this meant much was left to campaign groups to argue with each other about the merits of leaving or remaining
    • ‘Without a great deal of prior knowledge, it would be very difficult for audiences to make sense of these claims and counter-claims, regardless of their veracity’
  • ‘although broadcasters have to abide by “due impartiality” guidelines, this does not necessarily mean they have to be balanced when reporting facts and figures. The editorial goals of accuracy and objectivity involve challenging or questioning claims about being in or out of the EU’
    • Argues that although broadcasters were even-handed in terms of giving both sides equal time, they could have more independently scrutinized, challenged or contextualized many of the facts and figures used by the campaigns 
  • Just days before the Referendum, only 31% felt well or very well informed about their EU vote 

The narrow agenda: how the news media covered the Referendum – Deacon, Downey, Harmer, Stanyer, Wring (page 34-5)

  • Talks about the issues that the referendum created for media 
    • News organisations could not resort to established practices derived from their reporting of electoral contests 
    • i.e. the newspapers couldn’t fall along their fault lines bc the Tories were divided themselves 
  • ‘Broadcasters had to access whether the inclusion of participants beyond the governing party risked introducing new imbalances in their coverage given the other significant parties wholly or mainly endorsed staying in the EU’
  • I.e. most parties were pro-EU, so they couldn’t show a broad range of parties and still be seen as balanced — their coverage would then be majority pro-EU
  • Analyses a DIRECTIONAL BALANCE(i.e. was tv more pro-IN or pro-OUT)
    • Unlike in newspapers, which gave more prominence and quotation space to IN and OUT campaigners depending on their own bias, in TV none of these clear directional tendencies were evident
    • Analysis of 482 TV news items found a small surplus of 28 IN orientated items over OUT items
    • There was also much greater parity in thebroadcasters’ presentationand quotation of competing viewpoints
  • TV news gave far greater prominence to reporting and quoting views of citizens than particular parties 
    • Also, reporting was high ‘presidential’ – the top 5 most frequently reported participants were David Cameron, Boris, Farage and Gove 
      • They accounted for 1/4 of all media appearances 
  • There was remarkable consistency in issue coverage across the media, with 3 issues dominating media debate: economy, immigration, conduct of campaign itself 
  • The marginalisation of many other major issues including the environment, taxation, employment, agricultural policy and social welfare was striking
    • Devolution attracted less than 1% of news coverage 
    • Given their clear Remain majorities and the future implications for both Scotland and Northern Ireland this is a remarkable absence 

‘They don’t understand us’: UK journalists’ challenges of reporting the EU – Anna Wambach (page 53)

  • In interviews with Wambach, journalists complained that the complex nature of the EU does not lend itself to engaging reporting, particularly when there is little time for explanation
    • In order to keep the audience interested, they have to tell a human story, more emotional than factual, to avoid viewers switching off
    • They have to address their audiences’ preferences which leads to a focus on the domestic realm and topics they are more interested in, such as immigration
  • Media organisations are businesses which need to secure their share in the market which will always result in tensions between the commercial and public purpose of news 
    • Even the BBC (although not directly dependent on viewer numbers) has to fulfil its duties of providing information from both sides — acutely aware of accusations of pro-EU bias 

Bending over backwards: the BBC and the Brexit campaign – Prof. Ivor Gaber (page 54)

  • BBC journalists under their Editorial Guidelines have an obligation to provide balanced coverage
    • They don’t have to report climate change statistics in balance with the views of climate change –  but there was no similar judgement made during the EU ref campaign, resulting in coverage that was unintentionally misleading 
  • 13th June – Gordon Brown entered the debate urging Labour supporters to vote to remain 
    • That story led the morning radio and TV bulletins, but by mid-morning the BBC was leading, not on Brown’s speech, but on the Leave campaign’s rebuttal 
      • Showing the evolution of news throughout the day — something you don’t get with the printed press 
  • ‘the other aspect of BBC balance that gives concern has been the attempt to balance so-called elite opinion with that of the ‘common man or woman”
    • Tedious over-reliance on the ‘vox pop’ – the quick soundbite from a member of the public that gives the appearance of being representative but is probably atypical 
      • In the edit suite, the vox pop of the man or woman denouncing all politicians as “liars” stands a far better chance of being used than more nuanced comments 
  • Roger Mosey argues that these incidents become amplified, giving the example of a student who had criticised the PM as “waffling” being “elevated to the status of a national seer” and added “segments that discuss policy are ditched in favour of having as many “zingers” as possible in the News at Ten”

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