The news media have for some time been on the front lines of controversy surrounding Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. In November 2015, the Media Reform Coalition produced research which showed that newspapers overwhelmingly sought to attack Corbyn’s leadership credentials from the moment he was elected.
Now in June of this year, and in conjunction with Birkbeck University of London, the London School of Economics published research based on a more extensive analysis of newspaper coverage that reached similar conclusions conducted a real-time analysis of this coverage over a crucial 10-day period following the first wave of shadow cabinet resignations and finishing on the day the Iraq War Inquiry was published.
The report notes that ‘the vast majority of the British newspapers situated moderately to firmly on the right of the political spectrum, the analysis of the data points to a strong ideological bias. The rightwing newspapers were particularly negative and acerbic towards Corbyn.’
But, it also noted that there was also clearly a degree of ‘anti-Corbyn reporting in the left-leaning and liberal newspapers. This was especially visible through the amplification of internal struggles and tensions within the Labour Party regarding Corbyn.’
The main conclusions of the report based on 465 online articles and 40 prime time news bulletins having been assessed are:
* Twice as much airtime given to critical, rather than supportive voices
* Huge imbalance in favour of issues pushed by Corbyn critics on early evening BBC and ITV bulletins – especially pronounced in headline stories
* Strong tendency within BBC main evening news for reporters to use pejorative language when describing Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters
* Domination of views opposed to the Labour leadership in all but one of the online outlets sampled, and across both left and right-leaning titles
* Online-only news sites relatively balanced in their coverage, as well as the BBC online
The executive summary of the research report says that this ‘manifested itself by the newspapers providing an extensive and enthusiastic platform to those forces in the Labour Party that aggressively contested Corbyn and whathe stands for. Arguably, exposing the internal tensions within the Labour Party could be seen as part of the watchdog role of the media.’
‘However, Corbyn is systematically ridiculed, scorned and the object of personal attacks by most newspapers; says the executive summary. They add that: ‘Even more problematic were a set of associations which deligitimised Corbyn as a politician, calling him loony, unpatriotic, a terrorist friend and a dangerous individual.’
The closing comments of the Executive Summary of the report is pretty scathing of the media:
‘To conclude, the degree of viciousness and antagonism with which the majority of the British newspapers have treated Corbyn is deemed to be highly problematic from a democratic perspective.
If, as the British philosopher Onora O’Neill (2002) also argued, the high degree of media power needs to be accompanied by a high degree of media and democratic responsibility, is it then acceptable that the majority of the British newspapers uses its mediated power to attack and delegitimise the leader of the largest opposition party against a rightwing government tosuch an extent and with such vigour?
By posing this question in the way we do, we also imply that this is not merely a political question, but also an ethical and a democratic one. Certainly democracies need their media to challenge power and offer robust debate, but when this transgresses into an antagonism that undermines legitimate political voices that dare to contest the current status quo, then it is not democracy that is served.’
You can download the executive summary of the report here