What a travesty – but then, you will be well aware that the UK’s news media have been backing the Conservatives for many years.
There has been at least one other academic study in the last few years, showing that the media – and especially the BBC – predominantly support the Conservative Party in their news coverage.
Now, Loughborough University has analysed newspaper coverage of political parties during the first week of last year’s general election campaign.
It found that the Labour Party was overwhelmingly targeted with negative coverage, while the Tories were showered with praise.
What is your average, non-political person-on-the-street supposed to think?
Look at the state of this:
The study also showed that the most positive coverage of the Tories came from the highest circulation newspapers, with journalists at The Sun and the Daily Mail relied upon to write deferential, pro-government stories.
“The unweighted results show that only the Conservative Party received more positive than negative coverage across all newspapers,” the academics said in a summary of their research.
“In contrast, Labour had a substantial deficit of positive to negative news reports in the first formal week of the campaign.”
To give you an idea of the scale of the imbalance: the study weighted each news item on whether it contained a negative or positive implication for each party, scoring either -1 or +1 respectively, while balanced news items produced a 0.
The result:+4 for the Conservatives, and -91 for Labour.
At a time when the law demands impartial coverage.
The UK badly needs independent news coverage – or at least a restoration of the balance.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
The DWP closely monitors media output, and compiles a “sentiment of articles” chart every month to make sure that they receive positive coverage.
Ministers have been doing their best to pretend that they never do anything wrong – and have then done their best to hide the fact that this is what they’re doing.
Doesn’t that tell you everything you need to know about the DWP?
Officers for the Department claimed that the information was “commercially sensitive”, of all things.
That just leads one to ask why. What commercial contracts would this information prejudice?
Clearly the Information Commissioner was not convinced by whatever argument the DWP produced, because we have our information now.
This Blog is one of the social media sources that offers almost exclusively negative coverage of the Department for Work and Pensions, and it is interesting to note how the DWP treated one of my biggest stories.
In August 2015 the DWP “proactively briefed” the media about the long-awaited statistics which showed the amount of ESA claimants who had died after being found fit for work.
I had no way of knowing this at the time, but this action was successful in ‘spiking’ coverage in the FT (whose editors should have known better), the Express (this is more understandable) and on ITV.
The DWP’s commentary stated that the most critical initial coverage of the statistics misrepresented their details. This was because the DWP had done its best to present them in a manner that would be misunderstood. Still, it was able to secure corrections in the Grauniad and the Mirror which weakened the story.
We are left with a clear message: The DWP is more concerned with distorting the facts – or preventing them from being known at all – than with the facts themselves.
It does not matter to Conservative ministers that their policies have killed thousands of people.
They just want to make sure nobody finds out about it.
Following a 13 month battle, the DWP have finally been forced to release secret documents illustrating the tactics they use to control and manipulate the media.
The documents reveal that the DWP monitors and analyses both mainstream and social media to reduce and manage negative coverage.
And even more worryingly, the documents show the DWP have managed to kill hundreds of stories by making sure that they are not reported.
Almost every month since March 2014 the DWP communications team has produced “Media Evaluation Reports” detailing the ways and methods that the DWP controls negative stories about them in the media.
The reports give valuable insight into a department that is unhealthily focused on the press coverage [it receives].
The fact that they have managed to kill so many stories that they don’t approve of raises serious questions as to how the department is exercising its influence over the free press.
The role of journalism is to bring people the truth behind the DWP’s rhetoric, not to act as the chief mouthpiece for it.
Look at this – The Guardian has had to respond to attacks from readers who claim it has been too critical of Jeremy Corbyn in its Labour leadership coverage.
Not surprisingly – given this newspaper’s history – the Labour leadership race, and in particular the candidacy of Jeremy Corbyn, has generated powerful feelings among readers, not all in favour of the Guardian’s coverage. “Had enough of your paper,” said the subject line of an email from one reader, who went on to say: “I’ve been a regular reader of the Guardian (Manchester Guardian as was) since 1958. Despite the low point reached in the 60s when you supported the US war in Vietnam for a while, I still continued with it. But your sustained, arrogant, specious and just false reporting of Corbyn’s candidacy is too much. I am not a member or even supporter of the Labour party but your scurrilous coverage has convinced me that your paper no longer lives up to the label. I shall no longer … buy it nor view it online. Goodbye.”
Lost cause or no, I felt it only courteous to reply: “I’m sorry that you are leaving and I will be looking at the Guardian’s coverage of Jeremy Corbyn to test your theory, but I just wondered whether you’d read this [‘I don’t do personal’, 17 June], or this [No wonder Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents are so rattled, 8 July], or this [Jeremy Corbyn has the one Blairesque trait the Blairites don’t get, 20 July].” These were articles that could be described as showing a measure of support for Corbyn. There was also a piece by Seumas Milne with a sympathetic mention for the Labour leadership contender (There’s no reason to accept austerity. It can be defeated, 18 June).
The reader responded, putting me firmly in my place: “Yes, I’ve read the articles you refer to but they are outnumbered some five to one by the negative reports. Comment is perfectly legitimate, but the sneering, supercilious, specious and dismissive contributions masquerading as ‘commentary’ belittle the claims of a ‘quality’ paper.”
In the early days of Corbyn’s charge, the readers rightly got a sniff that on occasions we weren’t taking him seriously enough. That has changed, and there is still much coverage to go before the ballot closes on 10 September.
Considering today’s attack piece, quoting Chris Leslie, are we really to believe that closing comment?
BBC News chief James Harding is whining about politicians from all sides, who he claims threatened the BBC’s future funding over its handling of the election.
Harding, who is himself a Conservative, doesn’t really have a leg to stand on. The corporation’s news coverage has suffered serious bias for a considerable period of time – not only in the way it covers news, but in its choice of news coverage.
How many of you have attended large-scale anti-government demonstrations recently? How many of them made it onto the news without violence taking place?
“But, along the way, there were people from all parties who made the connection between their dissatisfaction with the election coverage and the fact that the next government will set the licence fee and the terms of the royal charter.
“Some did so explicitly. Nigel Farage, for example, said he was unhappy at Ukip’s treatment on the BBC and proposed cutting the licence fee by two thirds. Others left it hanging in the air.”
Farage had better coverage of his party than any of the other minor players (including the Liberal Democrats) – and more complimentary coverage than Labour! He had no reason to complain at all.
Harding said criticism of the BBC’s newsrooms was “unfair and unfounded”, including the “fabled leftwing bias” which he said he found “increasingly hard to take seriously in the light of the Conservative victory”.
“What’s the argument? That the BBC’s subtle, sophisticated leftwing message was so very subtle, so very sophisticated that it simply passed the British people by?” Harding told a Voice of the Listener and Viewer conference in London on Tuesday.
At least he’s being accurate here – but disingenuous about the reason for this, which is the fact that the BBC’s news editors and reporting team is too right-wing for words. Oh, but hang on…
“I find equally implausible the Labour critique that the BBC is too rightwing,”
… said Mr Harding, who is well-known as a Conservative – as are Fran Unsworth, deputy director of BBC news and current affairs; Mary Hockaday, head of newsroom; Gavin Allen, news editor, BBC News; Keith Blackmore, managing editor of news and current affairs; Jonathan Munro, head of newsgathering; and the chair of the BBC Trust, Rona Fairhead.
BBC political editor Nick Robinson is not only a Conservative; he’s a Conservative activist.
“Let me be clear: the BBC is scrupulously impartial. Of course, we make mistakes. I’m not saying we’re perfect; but we are impartial.”
Harding, the former editor of
… Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing mouthpiece …
The Times and a key lieutenant of BBC director general Tony Hall, said he “got it in the ear from politicians and their spokespeople from all political parties”.
“Labour was angry about the focus on the SNP, the Tories regularly questioned our running orders and editorial decisions, the Lib Dems felt they weren’t getting sufficient airtime, the Greens complained about being treated like a protest movement not a party,” he said.
If he was any good at his job, Harding would have said that none of these complaints are any of his business; the only thing that should have mattered to him was that the BBC was putting out accurate, impartial election coverage.
Considering his own personal history, that of his staff, the coverage we got and his reaction to criticism, this ex-newspaper editor can happily conclude that the BBC did not put out such coverage, and that some of the criticisms are accurate.
Perhaps the BBC would like to tell us where it hides reporters and editors with a left-wing background?
Getting a little worried, George? According to a commenter on this blog, IDS is “not listening to anyone and will be carrying on until the bitter end”. So much for democracy, then.
The Department for Work and Pensions has turned down my Freedom of Information request on the number of people who have died while going through the Atos benefit assessment process, or shortly afterwards – claiming that I am harassing officials with a co-ordinated, web-based campaign to disrupt the organisation.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “They’re having a laugh, aren’t they?”
My request was for the department to provide the number of Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance claimants who have died in 2012. Please break that figure down into the following categories:
Those who are in the assessment phase
Those who were found fit for work
Those who were placed in the work-related activity group
Those who were placed in the support group
Those who have an appeal pending
I stated that I was aware that the DWP came under criticism last year because it did not follow up on the conditions of people who had been found fit for work and signed off the benefit, and said I hoped this had been rectified and follow-up checks carried out, so details of
Former ESA/IB claimants who have died after being put onto Jobseekers’ Allowance, and
Former ISA/IB claimants who were taken off benefit but put onto no other means of support, and the number of these who have died
could be provided.
Here’s the response. Read it and weep:
“Upon considering your request I consider it to be vexatious in nature and therefore under section 14(1) of the Freedom of Information Act the Department is under no duty to answer your request.
“To be a vexatious request the Information Commissioner’s guidance notes that we should consider, amongst other things:
whether compliance would create a significant burden in terms of expense and distraction
whether the request has the effect of harassing DWP or causing distress to staff.
“On your website where you share information about the request you have raised with other people, you have stated “I have therefore, today, sent a Freedom of Information request to the DWP … I strongly urge you to do the same. There is strength in numbers”. With this as the stated aim of the exercise I believe your request is designed to harass DWP in the belief that encouraging others to repeat a request which they know has already been raised will affect the outcome of that request.
“Compliance with multiple repetitions of a known request also causes a burden, both in terms of costs and diverting staff away from other work, due to the significant time required to administer these requests.
“The ICO also advises that if a public authority has reason to believe that several different requesters are acting in concert as part of a campaign to disrupt the organisation by virtue of the sheer weight of FOIA requests being submitted, then it may take this into account when determining whether any of those requests are vexatious.
“As your request is part of a website based campaign I consider that it meets the above criteria and therefore is vexatious in nature.”
Readers may remember I sent my request after a previous attempt by Samuel Miller had failed. His request did not succeed because he was a single individual the officials thought they could push around – now mine has failed because they say I’m acting mob-handed and they think I’m trying to push them around!
In other words, they’re trying to have it both ways.
If I recall correctly, they refused Mr Miller’s request on the spurious argument that the previous FOI request – for which he was requesting an update – was a one-off. This was clearly nonsense.
We all know that it is in the public interest to know how many people are dying as a result of government policy. The DWP certainly knows it because of the reaction the information received when it last became public knowledge – press coverage and public outrage. Therefore there is no justification for any argument that it has not monitored these figures. Any claim that it has not had reason to monitor deaths after people were thrown off the benefit may also be rejected because of the strong public reaction against the Department for failing to provide this information last year.
Now they are rejecting my request on the specious argument that I am harassing them by the strength of my numbers… My number being exactly one. I have not organised anybody else into doing anything; I merely suggested that if the DWP refuses to answer a lone voice, it may pay more attention if others make the same request.
I find it extremely interesting to note that DWP officials are monitoring my blog. I made no mention of it in my email to them. Some might find that sinister.
I take issue with the claim that “harassment” of the DWP is “the stated aim of the exercise”.The stated aim was for the DWP to release its figures on the number of people who have died, either while going through the assessment process for IB or ESA, or afterwards – as stated in the FOI request. The suggestion that others might wish to do likewise was clearly an afterthought.
I dispute the claim that compliance with multiple repetitions of a known request causes a burden in terms of costs and staff time. In the Internet age, only one response to a request needs to be written; it can then be sent to multiple recipients at no cost in money or time, as readers of my blog are aware after receiving identical messages in response to correspondence they have sent on other matters. In any case, this is beside the point as the comment about compliance with multiple requests is irrelevant. I had no reason to expect that anyone would follow my lead when I put in my own request – it was a single request for information and any suggestion that it was part of an orchestrated campaign of harassment is paranoid hysteria.
Furthermore, it distracts from the fact that there was no reason to refuse the original request by Mr Miller. If the DWP had simply answered his questions, there would have been no reason for my request or any of the many others the department seems to be claiming it has received (for which I have no proof other than the vague implication that this is the case).
Bear in mind that this is the same government department that accused a disabled woman of harassment, alarm or distress under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, against everybody working for it – and sent the police around to her Cardiff flat, just before midnight on a Friday night last year, to put the frighteners on her. They are well-acquainted with the practice of turning the facts upside down. Just who was being harassed, again?
This leaves us with the impression that the Department for Work and Pensions will do anything to withhold the figures on the number of deaths caused by its policies.
It seems unlikely that a government department would go to such lengths unless those figures reveal a serious problem with the policy; therefore we may reasonably suspect that the number of deaths has increased, perhaps dramatically.
In turn, considering that we know ministers, the Secretary of State (Vox‘s Monster of the Year 2012 – Iain Duncan Smith), and the Prime Minister have all been warned that the assessment system they have brought in (admittedly inherited from Labour but altered under the Coalition) – and all have refused to instigate changes to make it more humane – it seems possible that a legal case for corporate manslaughter of the many thousands who have died could be made – IF the current figures were made available.
This means that its own actions have put the DWP, its officials and ministers, precisely where I want them.
We all knew they were unlikely to give up the information without a struggle, and the shape of our campaign would be dictated – to a certain extent – by their response to our reasonable requests. Now we have that response, we may proceed.
… But we’ll leave our departmental interlopers guessing about exactly what we’ll be doing, I think!
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