Fundamental part of democracy

24 May 2018

TV camera

Public Service Media (PSM) is integral to the health of democracies, a report by a Cardiff University academic concludes.

PSM contribution to democracy: News, editorial standards and informed citizenship, was written by Dr Stephen Cushion, of the School of Journalism, Media and Culture.

Focusing primarily on broadcast media during election campaigns, Dr Cushion analysed the frequency and quality of news broadcasts across both public service and commercial channels.

When examining coverage between the main broadcasters during the UK 2015 and 2017 general elections, he notes: “PSM focus more on issues and policy implications than market-driven media. That might involve, for example, scrutinizing the manifesto promises of parties or independently examining how credible they are.

“Commercial media, by contrast, tended to report more game or strategy-type stories, which centre on who's up or down in the polls as well as the campaigns and personalities of the electoral contest.”

While all UK television news bulletins widely reported the 2015 and 2017 general election campaigns, Dr Cushion concludes it was the BBC that consistently dedicated time to “low-key campaigns, such as local or European elections, which were often ignored by market driven media.” His analysis shows local and EU election campaigns in 2009 and 2013 respectively made up 6.2% and 4.7% of the BBC News at Six’s programme. This was in contrast to Channel 5’s 5pm bulletin, where it accounted for just 1.2% and 1.0% of its total news agenda.

In his conclusion, Dr Cushion writes: “At a time when concerns are mounting about fake news and disinformation, ensuring news is delivered with high editorial standards is essential to sustaining a well-functioning democracy.

“As more people are exposed to dubious or politicised information on sites such as Twitter and Facebook, PSM offer reliable and credible news that not only serves the needs of individuals but benefits entire democracies, since people can act more rationally as citizens when they have access to accurate news and information.”

The report was compiled for the Media Intelligence Service (MIS) of the European Broadcasting Union.

Dr Cushion, has written extensively about news, politics and journalism. His latest book, co-authored with Dr Richard Thomas of Swansea University is called: Reporting Elections: Rethinking the Logic of Campaign Coverage.

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