Thursday, June 30 2016

Hansard Society Audit on ‘the media and politics’

The Hansard Society has launched the second part of their 9th Audit of Political Engagement which looks at ‘the media and politics’.

The second part of the audit looks at key questions relating to the media’s influence on knowledge of and attitudes to politics, sense of political capacity and understanding of the political system. As well as looking at the influence of different types of media, special attention is paid to newspaper readership and its influence on attitudes to politics. Clear patterns emerge between the type of newspaper consumed, perceived knowledge of politics and attitudes towards politics and political efficacy.

Newspapers are categorised as follows:

•  Red-top: Sun, Mirror, People, Daily Star, Daily Record, Sunday Mirror, Sunday People, Sunday Sport
•  Mid-market: Daily Express, Daily Mail, Sunday Express, Mail on Sunday
•  Tabloid: Red-top and mid-market papers combined
•  Broadsheet: Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Financial Times, Times, Independent, Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Times, Observer, Independent on Sunday

Some of the key findings are summarised below:

Political media: sources, satisfaction and influence

• Television is overwhelmingly the most common channel of communication, with three-quarters of all respondents (75%) selecting it as their main source of political news and information. Tabloid newspapers (27%), radio (26%), news websites (20%), broadsheet newspapers (16%) and social media (6%) lag a long way behind.

• Tabloid newspapers are consistently identified by two-thirds of the public as displaying negative traits in their coverage of politics and politicians. Around two thirds of the public believe that they are “significantly more likely than other media to be ‘more interested in getting a story than telling the truth’, to ‘look for any excuse to tarnish the name of politicians’ and to ‘focus on negative stories about politics and politicians’. Tabloid readers themselves strongly agree with the negative statements about their own newspapers of choice.

• Television is rated as the most likely channel of media to inform people about politics, to be fair and representative and the most likely to ‘do a good job of keeping politicians accountable for their conduct’.

• There is an overwhelming belief amongst those surveyed ”that the media is influential on voters, and more than half of the public think it influences politicians too…Only 3% think that the media has no influence at all on the public’s electoral decisions.

Knowledge and interest

• 26% of red-top readers claim to have no interest in politics, compared to 5% of broadsheet readers and 11% of mid-market readers. 37% of people who don’t read a paper claim no interest in politics.

• 18% of red-top readers  claim to know nothing at all about politics compared to 3% of broadsheet readers and 6% of mid-market readers. 15% is the national average, which is close to those who read local papers (12%).

Action and participation

• Broadsheet and mid-market readers are more likely than the national average to say that they will vote in the event of a general election (62% and 64% respectively). Both local paper and red-top readers are closer to the national average (48%)…Of nonreaders, 25% say they are certain not to vote.

Efficacy and satisfaction

• Broadsheet readers and mid-market readers are much more likely than red-top leaders to think that the system of governing “works extremely or mainly well.”

• There is equal confidence across readers of different papers about the “capacity to effect change in the way the country is run” (35-37%). Non-readers are much less optimistic about this, at just 24%.

•  72% of broadsheet readers think that getting involved locally can make a dirrerence to politics. Mid-market, red-top and local paper readers lie around the national average (56-60%). Only 45% of those who read no paper believe that local involvement can make a difference.

Civic and political involvement

• Broadsheet and mid-market readers are more likely to feel influential with regard to national decision-making: 21% and 18% compared to 11% of red-top and local paper readers.

• Broadsheet readers are most likely to express a desire to get involved locally and nationally.

Perceptions of Parliament

• Broadsheet and mid-market readers are “significantly more likely to agree that Parliament is essential to democracy” (90% and 82% respectively) red top readers come just below the national average at 59%.

• Broadsheet and mid-market readers are much more likely to agree that Parliament holds government to account (52% and 50% respectively). Red top readers, at 36%, mirror the national average

• Broadsheet (68%) and mid-market readers (65%) are also more likely than the average to agree that Parliament debates and makes decisions about ‘issues that matter to me’. Local newspaper readers (45%) and red-top readers (44%) fall a little below the national average.

• Broadsheet (54%) and mid-market readers (54%) are more likely to prioritise Parliament’s role in ‘representing the UK’s national interests’ than the public generally (40%). Readers of local newspapers (39%) and red-tops (37%) are around the national average, while readers of no paper at all (32%) assign less priority to this role.

All of these findings cannot be removed from the wider context of the developments that have taken place in media over the past few years, notably the phone hacking scandal, the NewsCorp/BSkyB takeover bid controversy, and the establishment of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press. All have placed a major spotlight on the media and the media’s relationship with politicians. The role of the Murdoch media empire has perhaps been the most scrutinised issue in regards to media ownership, editorial independence and media plurality.

A clear pattern appears as to the knowledge, interest, efficacy and understanding that newspaper readers convey, with broadsheets appearing to be the most likely to evince these traits, according to the Hansard audit.

Tabloids and red-tops lie on the opposite end of the spectrum with the report concluding that “Tabloids do not appear to advance the political citizenship of their readers, relative even to those who read no newspaper at all.”

Reflecting on the democratic responsibility of the media, the report states that the media, the print press, and tabloids more specifically, do not appear to enhance our democracy by performing the role of ‘watchdog’; as an informer and in holding government to account

Interesting among the recommendations in the Hansard report is the call for “a more effective sanctions regime – which recognises and is designed to stimulate the responsibilities of the press alongside its rights within our democracy.”

Given the “demonstrable link between readership and political engagement” that the audit establishes, and the influence of the media in shaping and informing public attitudes, including attitudes towards Muslims, details of an effective sanctions regime, one that balances the press freedoms with responsibility, is something we eagerly await in the recommendations of Lord Justice Leveson.

The full report is available to download here (see here for part 1).

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