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February 28, 2017updated 01 Mar 2017 2:23pm

Following the money: How right wing press has eclipsed the left in UK over 30 years

By Jim Chisholm

This chart for the UK indexes the relative shares of left and right wing newspapers over the last thirty years, exemplified by the combined sales of the Telegraph/Mail versus the Mirror/Guardian.

I’ve ignored the others because their positions were as much about opportunism as conviction.

Back in Thatcher’s 1980s, the left titles indexed combined sales around 20 per cent above the right titles. Today, the titles on the right have over double the market share of those on the left.

This picture is also apparent in countries such as Spain, France and Germany, where the media-right are steadily increasing their dominance.

The right is where the money is and money, and commercial acumen, rather than principle is what has driven the increasing dominance of right-wing media.

But as always the story is more nuanced.

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The chart below shows that the Daily Mail’s commendable market share rise (in red) has in fact been cyclical, and diametrically opposite to the strength of Tory majority parliament (in blue).

The red bendy line shows that the Mail’s market share rise slowed during the Tory years, but blossomed in the Blair years.

The chart clearly shows that against the general upward trend, the Mail gained more in opposition. And the same data shows, that The Guardian did far better against the Tories, (and in the Blair years, which it regarded as the same thing!).

The fact is that partisan news media attract more readers when in opposition, than when they are sympathetic.

In this “post truth” age of Trump and Brexit, there is some consolation in the fact that, against a generally increasing dominance of right-wing media, the evidence suggests this can be thwarted.

But the long-term question, in this increasingly divisive, extremist world, is how does the news media, whether established or emerging, better reflect all opinions rather than what I regard as the increasingly distorted “Enemies of the State” messaging.

Citizens welcome clarification and direction. But they, particularly younger people, are abandoning news media, in part – one part – because the news media are either emasculated – from the miserably managed Scotsman, to the UK’s now official state broadcaster, the BBC – or representatives of the rich and self-RIGHTeous.

I’ve written before about the potential for the ever-increasing number of independent “New News” creators. Individually many/most struggle commercially, but collectively this is a great new force, that can challenge and replace the distortions that we are now witnessing every day.

Finally, I offer two (perhaps more subjective) observations:

In the international context, British newspapers’ print audiences have fallen far faster than most other European countries. In the case of the regionals I put this firmly down to the profiteering of the publishers, but in the Nationals I believe it is due to our uniquely jingoistic editorial style.

A sensational headline may win the day, but the reader is left with a bad taste in their mouth, and the position of the press is slightly diluted.

The other is that media born around fads tend to fail, as the fad fades. Just as the ultra-nationalist Wings Over Scotland saw its audience soar to over that of The Scotsman during the referendum, only to plummet afterwards, so I suspect Breitbart will last little longer than Trump’s credibility. And the sooner the better.

Jim Chisholm is a news consultant and mediatrician

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