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Devolution implications were ignored in pre-EU Referendum media coverage

The devolution implications of leaving the EU barely registered in national press and TV coverage in the run-up to Thursday’s vote according to the latest EU Referendum media analysis report from Loughborough University.

Consideration of the implications of devolution accounted for just 0.8% of media coverage from 6 May to 22 June 2016, and taxation issues were covered even less – accounting for 0.6%.

In the four days since the vote (Friday 24 to Monday 27 June), the national press published 198 items mentioning Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, representing a daily average of 49.5 items; in the six weeks prior, Article 50 was mentioned just 88 times, achieving an average of 1.8 items per day.

In depth analysis reveals media coverage principally focussed on the drama and dynamics of the campaign, the economic implications of leaving the EU, and immigration and border controls. Collectively, these three topics accounted for 63% of all coverage.

Table 1.1: Most prominent issues by all media and media sector (6 May – 22 June) 

 

All Media

IN papers

OUT papers

TV

News

 

%

%

%

%


Referendum conduct

30.9


33.5


29.6


28.9

Economy/ Business

18.9

18.9

18.9

18.8

Immigration

13.2

9.9

14.8

15.6

Public opinion and citizens

8.0

8.8

5.0

11.3

Constitutional/ legal

6.1

5.8

6.7

5.5

Employment

3.6

3.9

3.4

3.4

Defence/ military/ security

3.4

2.9

4.4

2.7

Standards/ corruption

2.4

2.1

4.2

.3

Health & health services

2.3

2.7

2.2

1.7

EU operations and activities

1.7

1.4

1.6

2.4

Housing

0.9

.7

1.1

.8

Crime/ law and order

0.9

1.1

1.2

0.0

Social security

0.8

.6

1.2

.7

Devolution in UK

0.8

.8

.3

1.5

Other foreign policy

0.7

.8

.7

.5

Taxation

0.6

.6

.7

.5

Public services

0.6

.1

1.0

.6

Agriculture

0.6

.6

.3

.9

Environment

0.5

.7

.6

0.0

Education

0.5

.4

.7

.2

All other issues

2.7

3.5

1.5

3.4

Economic news exceeded coverage of immigration for all but one sample week. However, in the last days of campaigning, the gap between them narrowed.

 
The dominance of Conservative party representatives was sustained throughout. Seven of the top 10 and half of all in the top 30 media appearances list are Conservatives, accounting for 73% of the total number of appearances in the list.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was 7th in the appearances list. 10 of his party made the top 30 and together they accounted for 15% of appearances.

The only two representatives from other UK political parties to make the list were Nigel Farage (4th) and Nicola Sturgeon (16th).

Table 2.1: Top thirty media appearances (6 May – 22 June)

Position

Name

Number of appearances

 

 

Percentage of items in which they appeared

1

David Cameron (Conservative IN)

499

24.9%

2

Boris Johnson (Conservative OUT)

379

18.9%

3

George Osborne (Conservative IN)

230

11.5%

4

Nigel Farage (UKIP OUT)

182

9.1%

5

Michael Gove (Conservative OUT)

161

8.0%

6

Ian Duncan Smith (Conservative OUT)

124

6.2%

7

Jeremy Corbyn (Labour IN)

123

6.1%

8

Priti Patel (Conservative OUT)

65

3.2%

9

Gordon Brown (Labour IN)

52

2.6%

10

John Major (Conservative IN)

47

2.3%

11

Jacob Rees-Mogg (Conservative OUT)

35

1.7%

12=

Chris Grayling (Conservative OUT)

33

1.6%

12=

Gisela Stuart (Labour OUT)

33

1.6%

14=

Theresa May (Conservative IN)

29

1.4%

14=

Donald Tusk (President European Council IN)

29

1.4%

16

Nicola Sturgeon (SNP IN)

28

1.4%

17=

Bernard Jenkin (Conservative OUT)

24

1.2%

17=

Sadiq Khan (Labour IN)

24

1.2%

19

Liam Fox (Conservative OUT)

23

1.1%

20

Jean-Claude Juncker (President of the EC IN)

21

1.0%

21

Alistair Darling (Labour IN)

20

1.0%

22

Alan Johnson (Labour IN)

19

.9%

23=

Amber Rudd (Conservative IN)

18

.9%

23=

Ed Balls (Labour IN)

18

.9%

25=

Norman Lamont (Conservative OUT)

17

.8%

25=

Harriet Harman (Labour IN)

17

.8%

26=

Angela Merkel (Chancellor of Germany IN)

16

.8%

26=

Sarah Wollaston (Conservative OUT then IN)

16

.8%

26=

John McDonnell (Labour IN)

16

.8%

30

Angela Eagle (Labour IN)

15

.7%

The OUT to IN coverage gap continued into the final days of campaigning, with volume of Leave achieving a 80% to 20% advantage over Remain in the national press when weighted by circulation.

Report co-author Professor David Deacon said:

“Given the wider readership of the pro-Leave papers Thursday’s result is perhaps not so surprising.

“However, the seismic shift in reporting of Article 50 is staggering, increasing from an average 1.8 mentions per day pre-vote to 49.5 items post vote, and reflects the narrow issue agenda of both campaigns.”

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