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Study of election coverage shows Tories’ positive press and Russell Brand’s political prominence

By William Turvill

An analysis of press coverage throughout the election period has shown that Russell Brand (pictured, Reuters) attracted as much coverage as former prime minister Tony Blair and Green Party leader Natalie Bennett.

The Loughborough University study also showed how the Conservative Party enjoyed a far more positive press than the Labour Party among newspapers.

The study analysed coverage of the election on weekdays between 30 March and 7 May across Channel 4 News, Channel 5 News, BBC1 News at 10, ITV1 News at 10, BBC2 Newsnight and Sky News 8-8.30pm on television. In print, it looked at The Guardian, Independent, Times, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Daily Express, Mirror, Sun, Star and Metro.

Most prominent political figures

The study found that despite “talk about the fragmentation of the political mainstream”, Tory and Labour leaders David Cameron (15 per cent) and Ed Miliband (14.7 per cent) accounted for nearly a third of political “appearances” in coverage over the time period.

They were followed by Nick Clegg (6.5 per cent), Nicola Sturgeon (5.7 per cent), Nigel Farage (5.5 per cent), George Osborne (3.8 per cent), Ed Balls (2.5 per cent) and Boris Johnson (1.7 per cent).

All on 0.9 per cent were Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy, former prime minister Tony Blair, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and comedian Russell Brand. Beneath in the top-20 list were the Prime Minister’s wife Samantha Cameron (0.7 per cent) and Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood (0.6 per cent).

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Dominant themes

The study also worked out the percentage of coverage dedicated to certain topics, with the “election process” dominating 45.9 per cent of broadcast coverage and 44.5 per cent of newspaper coverage. The next biggest topic for both was the economy (8.1 per cent of television coverage and 10.5 per cent of newspaper coverage).

Constitutional issues (6.2 per cent compared with 3.7 per cent) and employment (4.4 per cent compared with 2.9 per cent) coverage were among the topics that attracted a higher proportion of TV coverage than newspaper coverage.

Newspapers devoted more space, proportionally, to taxation (6.5 per cent compared with 5.4 per cent), standards/corruption/sleaze (3.8 per cent compared with 2.2 per cent) and Europe (3.4 per cent compared with 2.4 per cent). Both devoted 1.1 per cent of coverage to the media.

“Directional balance”

The study also sought to gauge how positively and negatively newspapers covered political parties. Parties were scored +1 (positive), 0 (neutral) or -1 (negative) before these figures were weighted by newspaper circulation. The study said: “For example, a positively ranked article in the Sun was scored as 1 x 1.858, whereas a positive Independent ranking was scored as 1 x 0.058. (Sun circulation in March was 1.858 million and the Independent 58,000).”

On the workings on this part of the study, it said: “It is important to emphasise that this is not solely or even mainly a measure of overt support or criticism by a journalist of a party (although these instances would be included in the count). It is a broader measure of the extent to which newspapers report on issues/ comments/ developments that have positive or negative implications for parties. We only coded these instances where these were overtly referred to in the piece.

“Measuring media evaluations of this kind is not straightforward, as there is a risk that subjective political opinions might influence whether a news angle is seen as positive or negative. Two inter-coder reliability tests were conducted to check the robustness and consistency of these measures. The press-related data had by far the higher level of confidence, and for this reason, are the sole focus of this part of the report.”

The study found that coverage of the Tories remained positive throughout, starting with an average per-article score of  +.1342 between 30 March and 8 April, peaking at +.1667 between 9 and 15 April and finishing at +.1470 between 30 April and 6 May.

The Labour Party, meanwhile, scored -.1651 between 30 March and 8 April, dropping to -.2541 between 23 and 29 April and finishing last week on -.1995.

Aside from the SNP’s +.0115 between 30 March and 8 April, all other parties scored negatively throughout, though higher than Labour.

“Stop watch balance”

The other part of the study measured the percentage of quotation time leaders were given on television and the quotation space in print.

The Conservatives won 30.1 per cent of TV quotation time compared with Labour’s 28 per cent. In print, the Tories had 44.5 per cent of quotation space compared with Labour’s 29 per cent.

Read the full study here.

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