British Bulletin Bias

Revealing the hidden agenda of UK’s fourth estate

‘There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and to shame the devil.’ -Walter Lippmann

While mainstream media has been around for years, the digital age allows for media concerns to increase societal impact. Although objectivity is regarded as the mainstay of modern-day reporting, news commercialisation and economic and political interests of media corporations raise questions on how neutral journalists are in fulfilling their job as the fourth estate. In an era where news and opinion making reaches individuals in an increasingly tailor-made fashion, news neutrality has never been less of a luxury. As journalist and media critic Walter Lippmann wrote in his 1920 work ‘Liberty and the News’:

‘There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and to shame the devil.’

In this project, data analysis is performed on quotation data of twenty-one major British news sources, in order to gain insight on their neutrality.

Uk Media Landscape in 2020

Since the first news and gossip papers during the 17th century, technology made UK journalism an ever changing industry. Since then, journalism changed from a mainly written field to a multi-platformed discipline where radio, television, The Internet, computers and mobile devices made it possible to stay ever-informed. According to research done by Ofcom1, UK’s communications regulator, television was still the most used platform for news consumption in the UK during 2020, with Internet and social media closely following with 65% and 45%, respectively.

Usage of UK media platforms in 2020: Internet includes use of social media, podcasts and all other websites/apps accessed via any device, other websites/apps includes any non-social media internet source (including podcasts for the first time in 2020)

In this project it was chosen to measure news neutrality in the UK specifically, to narrow down the field of research. The UK has a, mainly, two-party system where parliament is dominated by the Labour and Conservative party. This could be seen as converting research on political neutrality to binary values, which makes it sufficiently easier.

An extra advantage of the UK as a country of research is the fact that the country has a state-owned news source, the BBC. Findings on neutrality could be remarkably more interesting taking this into account, since one would expect a public service company to be especially truthful and impartial.

Previously done research in the domain of news neutrality gives a baseline to which results can be compared to. In a survey by YouGov2 in 2017, 2040 people were asked to label newspapers based on how left or rightwing they appear them to be. Some of these newspapers coincide with the ones in our research.

A look into this data, gives a first impression on how left- or right-wing certain papers appear to be.

Is there a reason for the fact that The Guardian has a left-wing reputation? Can we draw a line on which newspapers have similar ideologies? Is the media as biased as people might think it is?

“Daily mail and Daily Express keep up a right-wing reputation, The Guardian and The Mirror leave left-wing impressions.”

*People who answered ‘Don’t know’ are omitted, between 39% - 49% of respondents. **The data was used as used by the YouGovpaper, the bars don’t always sum up to 100 due to what appears to be rounding errors. It was decided not to fix this to not alter the data.

The Data

Although the UK media landscape contains multiple news sources, we’re focusing on 21 newspapers. These newspapers are some of the biggest and most influential ones, but the main reason for choosing them was the number of quotes in the original dataset, Quotebank. For all the years, the following pie chart diagram shows the percentage of quotes from each newspaper.

“A dataset of quotes containing quotes from the BBC, Belfast Live, Birmingham Mail, Daily Mail, Daily Record, Daily Star, Digital Spy, Daily Express, The Herald, The Independent, I, Liverpool Echo, Manchester Evening News, Daily Mirror, Sky UK, London Evening Standard, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Sun, The Times and Wales Online.”

Unsurprisingly, the number of quotes differ a lot between the newspapers. This could be due to differences in volume, but also the urge to insert quotes into newspaper articles.

Percentage of total number of quotes, summarized over all years.

Analysis of political speakers

In the animation it can be seen how the number of quotes made by conservative and labour speakers for each newspaper changed over the years. A few general observations could be made: In 2015, a majority of the newspapers quoted more labour speakers but then a shift could be observed.

“In 2015, a majority of the newspapers quoted more labour speakers but then a shift could be observed.”

In 2016 about half of the newspapers quoted more labour, and the other half more convervative. From 2017, a majority quoted more conservative speakers instead. BBC and Independent followed this trend, quoting more labour in 2015 but more conservative thereafter. It could be noted that a few of the newspapers quoted more labour speakers after 2015 as well, especially Daily Record which did it all years. Also, Manchester Evening News, Liverpool Echo and Wales online quoted more labour speakers for most years.