Leveson Report and Royal Charter receives negative press coverage, Media Standard Trust finds
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Friday September 05 2014
The Guardian yesterday reports on the release of a report by the Media Standards Trust on the coverage of press regulation following the publication of the Leveson Inquiry report into the Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press.
The MST carried out a content analysis study focusing on the volume as well as the prevalence of certain types of evaluative statements or opinions about press regulation, the Leveson Inquiry and the Royal Charter in the national press since the report’s publication in November 2012.
19 national daily and Sunday newspapers in the UK were sampled including The Sun, Daily Mirror, Daily Star, Daily Express, Daily Mail, The Times, Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, Independent, and Financial Times.
Using a sample of 2,047 articles, online or in print, published between 29 November 2012 and 29 November 2013, the report found that an average of 5.6 articles were published daily following the publication of the Leveson report. This compared to 4.0 articles per day in the 18 months from July 2011, when the Inquiry commenced, until the date of publication of the report.
The report concluded that 1,421 (69.4%) articles contained one or more evaluative statements regarding Leveson or the Cross-Party Royal Charter by a source or within the text of the article.
The study found that of these 1,421 articles, 834, almost 60%, contained a viewpoint that was negative. The report argues this is almost four times the number of articles containing only positive evaluative references (15.2%, 216 articles) and more than double the number of articles (26.1%, 371 articles) that contained ‘both’.
Furthermore, the analysis suggests that the most common frame of criticism was that the Leveson recommendations and the Royal Charter represented a potential threat to press freedom or freedom of expression; this was documented in 862 articles. Although this equates to 40% of all articles in relation to press regulation, it rises to 60.7% when considering only articles with a viewpoint on Leveson or the Royal Charter.
The report notes that the claim that press freedom was being threatened was “often presented with no supporting evidence, no counter-argument, and without a quote by an identified source.”
The analysis further found that 381 articles were critical of specific recommendations of the Leveson report or of the provisions of the Royal Charter, accounting for over one third of articles (33.8%) containing any frames.
In comparison, only 364 articles (25.6%) were supportive of the Leveson report and 236 articles (16.6%) were supportive of the Royal Charter.
The MST report states that the language that was used to describe Leveson and the Royal Charter was “emotive, repetitive, and focused on freedom and government interference” with “hundreds of references to ‘press freedom’ as well as ‘shackles’, ‘muzzles’ and ‘curbs’ on the press.”
In addition, a breakdown of the findings by newspaper title shows that the Daily Mail published the most negative coverage with 67% of all articles containing a negative viewpoint in comparison to only 2% of articles that were positive. This indicates that more than 33 articles were published with critical views for every one positively framed article.
Similarly, the ratio between negative and positive articles was 29:1 respectively for the Sun newspaper. Previously the Sun has been criticised for its ‘selective’ use of data to report on press regulation.
A separate analysis of titles published by News UK, Daily Mail Group Media, Telegraph Media Group, Trinity Mirror and Northern & Shell found that 70.5% of titles contained highly negative coverage and the argument of ‘threat to press freedom’ appeared in 74.5% of articles containing a view.
Comparatively, titles published by the Guardian Media Group, Independent Print Ltd, and Pearson (Financial Times) contained half as many negative articles proportionally (34.2% of articles), and less than half as many instances referring to the ‘threat to press freedom’ (34.4% of articles). The report concludes there was a roughly equal ratio of positive to negative articles (1:1.2).
In addition, an analysis of leader articles and opinion articles revealed that articles were significantly ‘hostile’ to Leveson and the Royal Charter. Almost four fifths, 79.2%, of leader articles in which a view was expressed on Leveson or the Royal Charter were ‘negative only’ in comparison to 7 (3.6%) that were ‘positive only’. Similarly, 73.7% of opinion articles were ‘negative only’ while 14.9% were ‘positive only’.
Although the report points out that there is an “unusually large amount of public opinion data” on press regulation, it raised concerns that the negative approach of the newspapers towards Leveson and the Royal Charter tended to be at odds with public opinion gathered through various polls.
The report observes that polls conducted immediately prior to the publication of the Leveson report found that the majority of the general public “tended to be supportive of legal underpinning, supportive of the Leveson recommendations, and supportive of the Cross-Party Charter agreement reached in March, and of its specific provisions.”
The Guardian notes that the press industry has set up its own regulatory body, to succeed the Press Complaints Commission (though in actual fact is does not vary from the present systems and all its flaws very much), in a bid to negate the provisions of the Royal Charter.