Archive for August, 2008

Why don’t we have more analysis of media coverage of politics?

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Whatever you saw, read, or heard about Barack Obama’s speech to the Democratic convention you can be sure of one thing. The coverage will be covered.

Media Matters for America, the Project for Excellence in Journalism, Factcheck.org, the Pew Centre for People & Press, Columbia Journalism Review, TechPresident, lots of university media media centres, and many many blogs will all, in different ways, analyse the media coverage.

Some of these organisations are politically partisan. Media Matters is overtly pro-Democrat and searches for any signs of media bias: ‘ABC reports that Republicans are mocking Democrats’ columned stage, not that 2004 GOP convention stage also had columns’ was one of Thursday’s headlines.

Others are explicitly non-partisan, such as The Pew Centre for Press and People that conducts opinion polls and, with the PEJ, measures media coverage (e.g see ‘Obama rumours get more press‘).

And some focus on new media. Tech President, for example, looks at who is blogging about the campaign, who is watching Obama or McCain on YouTube or supporting the candidate on Facebook, as well as discussion and comment.

This doesn’t include, of course, the analyses by mainstream media. Howard Kurtz on media for the Washington Post. Fox News telling its viewers that the liberal media slavishly compare Obama’s rhetoric with Kennedy’s. Or Jon Stewart ribbing Fox News on the Daily Show.

So what does the UK have by comparison?

Well… Channel 4 makes a valiant effort to run FactCheck UK. There are some good bloggers discussing media, like Adrian Monck and Roy Greenslade (though certainly not restricted to politics). But not much more.

Why isn’t there more analysis of media coverage of politics in the UK? Given how important the media has become to politicians – “a vast aspect of our jobs today…” Tony Blair said last year “is coping with the media, its sheer scale, weight and constant hyperactivity” – you would have thought someone, somewhere, would be keeping a closer record.

Of course there are significant differences in the political process. We know when American elections are going to happen and the build up starts over a year before election day. This means US organisations have both time to prepare and plenty to analyse. In the UK the Prime Minister only has to give the electorate six weeks notice. So though most of us figure the next election will be in 2010, it’s difficult to justify starting election analysis now.

There’s also a lot more riding on the US election. Much as the UK might continue to swing its weight about in the world (hat tip to Mr David Miliband), the US remains the leading global power.

But these differences should only account for a difference in scale and approach. They don’t explain the vacuum of analysis here.

It’s time we had a centre for political media analysis. It’s time for a UK Pew / Project for Excellence in Journalism / TechPresident. Any volunteers?

Written by Martin Moore

August 29th, 2008 at 5:48 am

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Daily Mail campaign to protect personal information

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There is a double irony about the Daily Mail’s campaign to strengthen data protection.

It was only last month that the Daily Mail itself lost a laptop containing the personal and financial details of thousands of staff, suppliers and contributors (see Tara Conlan, 4/7/08).

And in 2006, when the Information Commissioner discovered that newspapers were systematically gathering confidential personal information (i.e. hiring private detectives to collect information illegally) guess who was the worst offender? The Daily Mail (with 952 ‘transactions’ – see What Price Privacy Now? p.9).

Written by Martin Moore

August 27th, 2008 at 7:41 am

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ITV's entertaining interpretation of public service TV

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Let me get this straight. Peter Fincham, director of television at ITV, believes entertainment programmes like the X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent should be more clearly defined as ‘public service’, so that they can become better supported by the state – if necessary to the detriment of news, current affairs and children’s programmes.

If I’ve understood the speech he gave to the Edinburgh TV festival on Friday correctly, he is arguing that big-budget high entertainment is the preserve of old broadcasters like ITV. Only these 20th century broadcasting giants can deliver both the programme quality and the bums on seats that provide a shared national experience, he suggests. The market does not – cannot – make these kinds of programmes for broad audiences. As such, ITV should be released from its other onerous public service commitments so that it can focus on these types of programmes. ‘Keep TV popular’ is Fincham’s mantra.

Hogwash. Or in the words of the London mayor, piffle. Fincham’s argument falls down on so many levels it’s hard to know where to start.

The market, bless it, does provide these sorts of programmes and will provide them whether or not ITV exists to commission / make them. Indeed if the market was left to its own devices there is a good chance many TV channels would make these programmes almost exclusively (which is no doubt one of Fincham’s worries).

More astonishing is Fincham’s attack on the state – on the “television that is understood by regulators, consultants, strategists and media commentators”. Not only is it far too easy to cast OFCOM and the DCMS as the villains of the piece, it’s also completely misleading. If anything, OFCOM has been one of ITV’s biggest cheerleaders. Listen to it arguing that ITV should be released from its commitments to regional news and you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a party political broadcast for the third channel. It is not OFCOM’s fault that ITV has lost viewers in droves, nor that ITV made such a terrible hash of its new media strategy (remember Friends Reunited?).

As for Fincham’s apparent vision – for a channel that is subsidised to make commercial entertainment, has its profits protected from the stiff wind of competition, and has almost no other programming obligations. Can you think of any country in the world where this happens? The only parallel I can think of is the Roman amphitheatre (which some of the programmes cited by Fincham bear more than a passing resemblance to).

To whose benefit is this vision? To the publics? It seems as though the public have already made their view clear, by deserting ITV to entertain themselves in other ways. No, the vision seems only to benefit established broadcasters, most notably ITV.

Only an industry like television, that has enjoyed such a prolonged golden age, could be so myopic as to think that, purely due to its legacy, it should be such a major recipient of state support. And, that the support should come without any strings attached.

Written by Martin Moore

August 26th, 2008 at 2:02 pm

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Can't get news coverage? Resort to Bob Dylan

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Whoever does Tim Wheeler’s PR will be patting themselves on the back this morning.

The chief executive of property developer Brixton used the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s ‘All along the watchtower’ (yup, the one you’re humming now – though you’re probably thinking of the Jimi Hendrix version) to describe the state of the commercial property market – safe in the knowledge that it was a great news peg.

And sure enough, watch the coverage roll in:
A couple from the Guardian -
‘Too much confusion and no relief: property chief quotes Bob Dylan to sum up market malaise’, Philip Inman, ‘Property, the credit crunch soundtrack’, Julia Finch
One in the Telegraph -
‘Bob Dylan sums up British property woes for Brixton chief’
One in the Daily Mail -
‘I can’t get no relief, moans boss who loves Dylan’ Caroline Grant (not online)
…and a couple of pieces from Daniel Thomas at the FT
‘Brixton waxes lyrical with its warning on commercial property’, ‘Brixton paints picture of doom in results’

Nor did the comment sections want to miss out on an opportunity to get the public involved:
‘Which song best sums up the UK downturn?‘ Rowena Mason, Daily Telegraph
‘Going for a song’, Comment is Free, Guardian

Funnily enough, without the benefit of Dylan, Wheeler received a little less coverage with his predictions a few years back – see Jenny Davey in the Times (2004).

What benefit the blanket coverage of the press release (presuming most journalists don’t usually have time to read Brixton property’s half yearly results) does for the property company is not entirely clear, but Tim Wheeler has a future in PR if he wants one.

Written by Martin Moore

August 20th, 2008 at 7:24 am

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