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UK: Biased political coverage sparks debates

20th Aug 2015
UK: Biased political coverage sparks debates

By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal and Gokhan Kurtaran


LONDON (AA): The direct and partial involvement of media organizations in recent political contests in the United Kingdom have sparked an ethics controversy.

“They [newspapers] are, as you’ve noted, explicitly partisan in their editorial policies,” Roger Dickinson, a professor at the University of Leicester, told Anadolu Agency.

“These policies – espoused in the editorial and opinion pages of newspapers – often reflect the political views of their owners.”

In the aftermath of Ed Miliband’s resignation as Labour Party leader – after leading Labour to its worst electoral performance in decades in May’s general election – various media outlets, such as the left-leaning daily The Guardian, have openly targeted one of the candidates to replace him, while extolling the virtues of others.

“[Jeremy] Corbyn has shaped the campaign, but [Yvette] Cooper can shape the future,” the daily said in an Aug. 13 editorial.

“The right leader is the person who can bring both Jeremy Corbyn and Liz Kendall together in one big, progressive tent, offering enough moral common ground to transcend deep disagreements on policy. It is a formidably difficult task, but there are very many in Britain who desperately need someone to pull it off. The person best placed to do that is Yvette Cooper.”

Dickinson says that newspapers need only be concerned about the views of their readers and “in the Anglo-American tradition, are only expected to be neutral in their coverage of news.

“There are many reasons why this is not seen as being ethically questionable,” he says. One is that a reader is free to stop buying a newspaper if they disagree with the editorial stance.

British newspapers were politically active during last year’s Scottish independence referendum. The Guardian advised voters to reject nationalism and say “no” last September.

Before the general election in May, right-wing tabloid The Sun supported the Conservative Party while The Financial Times newspaper and The Economist magazine defended the notion that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition should continue.

In its May 2 editorial, The Economist said: “Despite the risk on Europe, the coalition led by David Cameron should have a second term.”

“What is, perhaps, ethically questionable is the tendency for editorial policy to affect the news stories that are published in newspapers,” Dickinson says.

“This is where academic research on news is often focused. It is common for political partisanship to play a part in the selection of news stories or to determine the story angles that are given prominence in newspaper reports.

“Academic media researchers have for many years been interested in how this takes place, how frequently and on which news topics and the effects this has on public opinion.”

According to a report by OFCOM, the U.K.’s media watchdog, state broadcaster BBC has breached the pre-determined sponsorship rules 20 times since 2011.

It has suggested groups such as the Aga Khan Foundation, the International Diabetes Federation and UNESCO may have influenced decisions over some programs broadcast by the BBC during this period.

The watchdog found a series of contraventions of the BBC’s impartiality guidelines and said the practice carried “inherent risk to independence and editorial integrity”.

According to Dickinson, broadcasting organizations are obliged to follow rules of impartiality and balance in their editorial policies.

“This has become the tradition and it is partly because broadcasting frequencies are a relatively scarce resource,” he said. “It is impossible for a plurality of political views to be broadcast from a plurality of broadcasters taking a particular political position on any given topic.”

He says that numerous historical reasons exist for this situation, not least being the decision to make the BBC a “national broadcaster” in a system that imposes obligations of political neutrality.

“Of course, the Internet has changed, or is changing, these assumptions but the principles remain and are widely believed to be worth protecting,” Dickinson says.

Last week, another former Labour prime minister, Tony Blair, explicitly slammed Corbyn’s campaign in an article for the Guardian.

As the Labour leadership race between the four candidates – Cooper, Corbyn, Kendall and Andy Burnham – enters its final phase, he argued that the party was “in danger more mortal today than at any point in the over 100 years of its existence.”

He wrote: “If Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader… it will mean rout, possibly annihilation.”

More than 600,000 Labour supporters will vote for the new leader of the center-left party, after an election result that left it with its lowest number of MPs since 1987.

Party supporters started casting their votes Aug. 14. The final result will be revealed Sept.12.

According to the latest odds, Corbyn remains favorite while Burnham is in second and Cooper a close third. Kendall trails far behind.

[Photo: Media bias reporting on Scotland referendum. A ‘Yes? or No?’ sign placed on a street is seen ahead of the referendum on Scotland’s independence on September 15, 2014 in Edinburgh Scotland.Photographer: Yunus Kaymaz/Anadolu Agency]

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