Twice as much airtime given to Corbyn critics, new report shows
As the second Labour leadership election in less than a year gathers pace, research produced by Birkbeck, University of London and the Media Reform Coalition based at Goldsmiths has found clear and consistent bias in favour of critics of Jeremy Corbyn and against his supporters.
Researchers analysed 465 online news items from 8 providers, and 40 prime time television news bulletins on BBC One and ITV. Coverage was monitored over a 10 day period, following the first wave of shadow cabinet resignations and culminating on the day that the long-awaited Chilcot Report into the Iraq War was published.
The research found twice as much airtime given to critical, rather than supportive voices in relation to Jeremy Corbyn on the main BBC bulletins. There was also a strong tendency within BBC main evening news for reporters to use pejorative language when describing Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, including words like ‘hostile’ and ‘hard core’.
Regularly reaching in excess of 4 million viewers per day, the BBC’s main evening bulletins are the most widely used news programmes and the BBC is the UK’s most trusted news source.
Analysis of online news coverage revealed a domination of comment and opinion articles opposed to the Labour leadership in all but one of the news websites, and across both left and right-leaning titles.
When it came to news reports, the researchers found that online-only news sites (the Independent, Huffington Post and International Business Times) were relatively balanced in their coverage, as was the Guardian and BBC online.
Dr Justin Schlosberg from Birkbeck’s Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies is chair of the Media Reform Coalition and author of the report. He says: “This research shows that bias in mainstream media coverage of the Labour Party crisis was not inevitable or unavoidable given a minority of outlets that were relatively balanced.
“Amidst the social fracturing and polarisation of democratic life post-Brexit, the need for a more plural and inclusive mainstream news media has never been more urgent. We hope that broadcasters and editors will respond positively to our call to consider the impact of imbalanced reporting on the democratic process.”
Goldsmiths’ Professor Des Freedman (former Media Reform Coalition chair) adds: “This new research by Justin Schlosberg for the Media Reform Coalition reveals a broadcast news agenda that appears to be systematically hostile to the campaign of Jeremy Corbyn.
“While many people expect the highly partisan press to take sides against a progressive politician, broadcasters are expected to be impartial. This survey finds that our leading TV news bulletins give far more time to Corbyn's critics than to an objective assessment of the democratically elected leader of the Labour Party.
“We set up the Media Reform Coalition exactly five years ago following the 'News of the World' hacking scandal to press for a democratic and pluralistic media environment. Our research in the last year on UK media ownership together with media coverage of the Labour leader and the London Mayoral election shows that this project is as urgent as ever.”
Acclaimed film-maker and activist Ken Loach adds: “This invaluable research demonstrates that what we knew all along is true beyond doubt. The broadcasters, particularly the BBC, have shown a clear bias against Jeremy Corbyn and his campaign. This must now change.”
Download the full report at www.mediareform.org.uk
Read more from Des Freedman and Justin Scholsberg on Open Democracy