Great Britain

British press dramatically cut criticism of ruling Tories for 2019 election, study finds

Hostile press coverage aimed at the Labour party at the 2019 election was more than double the intensity as that in 2017, a study of the two campaigns has found. 

Researchers at Loughborough University who have been tracking political news coverage also found that British newspapers were half as critical of the Conservative party in this month's election as they were in the one two years ago.

Tracking newspaper coverage over five weeks of the 2019 election, the academics found that the intensity of hostile coverage of opposition parties intensified every week and peaked in the final days of the campaign.

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By contrast, coverage weighted by circulation was mostly positive about the Conservative party, with the most positive coverage found in the final week of the campaign.

"This level of negativity towards Labour was far from ‘business as usual’," the researchers said in a summary of their findings.

"Press hostility to Labour in 2019 was more than double the levels identified in 2017. By the same measure, negative coverage of the Conservatives halved."

The research also reveals a high presidentialised campaign, with Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn by far the most prominent figures in the media coverage. Interestingly, the researchers found that no contender for the next Labour leadership contest featured prominently in coverage. 

The study found that Brexit was "by far the most dominant issue" at critical points in the campaign – its start and end - but in intervening periods its prominence was lower.

"Research has shown that many voters only start paying attention in the last days of an election, so the final rush of Brexit coverage could have been consequential," the researchers said. 

While the Conservatives had the edge in press coverage in 2017, the researchers found that the media landscape was much closer at the previous election: the Conservatives had a balance of minus 0.09 to Labour's minus 0.13 in the balance of positive and negative stories – meaning Labour was only somewhat more negatively portrayed.

In 2019, however, the Conservatives' balance was negative 0.04, while Labour's was negative 0.30, far less positive.

Because the largest newspapers were more friendly to the Conservatives, when weighted by circulation the final week of the 2019 election gave the Tories a positive score of 30.17 while Labour's was minus 96.66 – a vast gulf in treatment. 

All opposition parties were portrayed negatively, with only the ruling Tories portrayed in a positive light. 

The report was produced by the university's Centre for Research in Communication and Culture. The researchers assessed items from the print editions of The Guardian, The i, The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Financial Times, The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, The Mirror, The Sun, and The Star, and assessed each printed item as whether it made a positive, negative, or neutral portrayal of each party.