Sunday 25 January 2015

Promotional headlines?

And talking about checking things and avoiding confirmation bias...

I saw some comments early this year on one of Owen Bennett-Jones's "right-wing, media-monitoring blogs" noting that Labour's election agenda was being heavily promoted (that day) by the Today programme, the BBC News website, BBC Breakfast, and the like. A few commenters went on to make the claim that this was likely to keep on happening right up till the general election in May.

So I thought I'd start checking it out by finding something easy to monitor and then focusing on it for a while. Would it bear out their (and my) suspicions?

The easiest thing to do was to screengrab the home page main headlines on the BBC News website every morning and record all the election/manifesto-related stories. That way any pattern of bias - say, headlining Labour election pledges/Labour's election-related charges more that those of its opponents - would duly emerge. 

It's early days yet, having started it on 6th Jan), and some of the initial New Year frenzy of electioneering appears to have worn off. But the results so far are as follows (and, NB, some days are missing because there were no election-related stories that day and some days had more than one election-related story):
6/1 - Lib Dems in NHS funding pledge
7/1 - Labour seeks summit to find A&E 'fix'
8/1 - Cameron: I can fix EU 'problem'
10/1 - Conservatives pledge new strike curbs
12/1 - Cameron warns of 'legacy of debt'
13/1 - Clegg on 'snoopers' charter' attack
14/1 - Leaders warn PM over TV debates
15/1 - Labour pledges caps on fat and salt
16/1 - Almost 1m voters missing - Labour
17/1 - Tories should fear Miliband - Patten
18/1 - No child illiteracy by 2025 - Clegg
19/1 - Cameron makes full employment vow
19/1 - Miliband pledges mental health push
20/1 - Mansion tax 'crude' says Mandelson
So far then, I make that 3 pro-Lib Dem ones, 5 pro-Labour ones, 4 pro-Conservative ones, 1 anti-Labour one and 1 anti-Conservative (or, at least, anti-David Cameron) one. 

As with everything like this, such results partly depend on what constitutes an election/manifesto-related story - and there can be no hard-and-fast rules on that, only rule-of-thumb ones. The rule-of-thumb one here is that the articles in question should, in some way, clearly tie the news story to the general election. Plus there's got to be a strong element of (dangerous) subjectivity in judging the pro-/anti- tenor of the story and placing the item firmly in one camp or the other. (So, should I have put "Tories should fear Miliband - Patten" in the pro-Labour camp? I think so, but do you?) There could even - God forbid! - still be some lurking confirmation bias remaining.

So far there's not much evidence here of the BBC promoting the Labour Party at the expense of the two governing parties, is there? I'll keep an eye on it for a while longer though. 

1 comment:

  1. The BBC are still making a noticeably conscious effort not to 'name check' David Cameron. He is never mentioned as David Cameron, the Prime Minister' or 'The Prime Minister, David Cameron'. This is important to politicians as it clearly associates a particular person with the job and is in marked contrast to Ed Milliband, the Labour leader which is normally used. It has been going on for about a yearand is clearly BBVC policy as it seems to happen in all their programmes. Christopher Scopes


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