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Television and online news biased in coverage of Labour Crisis, report claims

Birkbeck and Media Reform Coalition study finds twice as much airtime given to critical, rather than supportive, voices

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn

As the second Labour leadership election in less than a year gathers pace, research produced jointly by the Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies at Birkbeck, and the Media Reform Coalition has found clear and consistent bias in favour of critics of Jeremy Corbyn and against his supporters.

The 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.

“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,” said Dr Justin Schlosberg, chair of the Media Reform Coalition and author of the report.

“We hope that broadcasters and editors will respond positively to our call to consider the impact of imbalanced reporting on the democratic process.”

Acclaimed film-maker and activist Ken Loach said “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.”

The full report is available at the Media Reform Coalition website

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