Reflecting post-devolution politics in broadcasting

Our researchers found citizens were being routinely misinformed about major areas of policy.

Broadcasting and behind the scenes

Political power in the UK has been significantly devolved since 1999, transforming the policy landscape. Our research in 2007 found that broadcast news failed to reflect this new landscape, and that citizens were routinely being misinformed about major areas of policy such as health and education - a lack of information and understanding that is a potential barrier to democratic engagement.

One of the Trust achievements of which I am proud is our decision to require BBC News to dramatically improve its performance in reporting the devolved nations of the UK both to themselves and to one another.

Sir Michael Lyons Former BBC Chairman

Misinforming viewers and listeners

Our researchers sought to establish the extent to which devolution of political power in the UK was reflected in quality of news coverage provided by the BBC.

A team from the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies analysed more than 4,500 new items across a range of BBC television, radio and online outlets in 2007. They found that broadcast news failed to reflect the devolved political landscape.

Viewers were routinely being misinformed about major areas of policy such as health and education - a lack of information and understanding that is a potential barrier to democratic engagement.

The team found 'England' was often represented as a stand-in for the 'UK', and that London and the South East received a disproportionate level of coverage at the expense of 'the periphery' (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).

Differing policies

The four UK nations have all pursued different policies on education, from free schools to university tuition fees. On a practical level, citizens in each nation need to understand these differences. On a broader political level, an appreciation of these differences allows citizens to understand the range of possibilities, to judge their governments accordingly and hold them to account.

A change in coverage

Our research was used to inform the King Report, as well as being published by the BBC Trust as part of that report. The King Report adopted our main findings and recommendations, urging the BBC to improve coverage to more accurately reflect post-devolution politics in the UK.

The BBC accepted these findings and made a commitment - through guidelines - to report political issues in ways that would allow citizens to understand what their own governments were doing and the options pursued elsewhere. The BBC also ran a training and awareness raising programme for staff, including Senior Editors and Producers of major news programmes. This included visits to the devolved nations outside England to better understand differences in policy and delivery.

A follow-up study found that BBC news coverage had changed to become more accurate, and better reflected post-devolution politics in the UK.


Meet our experts

Professor Justin Lewis

Professor Justin Lewis

Professor of Communication, Dean of Research for the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Email:
lewisj2@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone:
+44 (0)29 2087 6341