The Guardian covers the publication of research undertaken by the Media Standards Trust into press coverage in the 100 days prior to the publication of the Leveson Inquiry report last November.
The study analyses press coverage from 14th July 2011, the day after the Leveson Inquiry was announced, until 28th November 2012, the day before the report was published. A total of 2,016 news articles from 18 national newspapers were analysed.
The research shows that nine national titles published no positive opinion of the inquiry into the Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press. The titles, Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Daily Express, Sunday Express, Sunday People, Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph, Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday, “were part of a wider pattern of "overwhelmingly negative" coverage of the inquiry into press standards, according to the Media Standards Trust study of more than 2,000 articles,” The Guardian notes.
The MST study shows that a single narrative dominated the coverage and that narrative was largely negative.
The research also shows that “negative coverage of the judicial inquiry "increased drastically" in the 100 days before the report was published, with articles in this period five times as likely to contain only negative viewpoints as only positive ones.
“Newspaper leader columns grew more adversarial on the eve of the report, according to the research, with 23 out of the 28 articles containing only a negative analysis of Lord Justice Leveson's scrutiny of the press.”
Tabloids fare worse in the analysis with “34 out of 43 articles…found to be "negative only" by the researchers, compared with 62 out of 85 reports published by broadsheet newspapers”.
The analysis is not all that surprising given that the newspaper groups that rejected the Royal Charter and devised an alternative, omitting some of the most significant recommendations put forward by Lord Justice Leveson, are none other than the parent groups of the nine titles listed above, Associated Newspapers, Express Newspapers, Trinity Mirror, News international and Telegraph Media Group.
The lack of objectivity and patent disregard for the criticisms levelled at the industry’s workings by Lord Leveson should come as little surprise in the case of the worst offenders of ethics, News International and the phone hacking scandal. But such also extends to those who have gained most of the weakness in the extant Press Complaints Commission and the feebleness of self-regulation as it currently operates. In a list compiled by Media Standards Trust of titles that have breached the code most frequently, the Daily Mail tops the list.
The wider consequences on the failure of the press to present an even and balanced argument on the issues raised by the Leveson Inquiry is captured by the author of the MST study, Gordon Ramsay, who writes:
"The strength and vitality of the UK press stems in large part from its ability to present the public with a wide range of authoritative and accessible views on often complex policy issues.
"However, the data gathered here shows that, where press coverage has expressed a view on the Leveson Inquiry, one viewpoint has dominated. Though much of the coverage of the inquiry during the public hearings was neutral, comment and opinion pieces were overwhelmingly negative."
The MST study certainly reinforces arguments advanced by groups pushing for independent self-regulation of the press on the basis that the current system is grossly failing and that the industry is too important in shaping public opinion to be left to its own devices.