The evolution of election coverage on British television news, 1979-2005

Ramsay, Gordon N. (2011) The evolution of election coverage on British television news, 1979-2005. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis seeks to provide a comprehensive account of the nature and degree of change in British television news coverage of General Elections. By creating and utilising an in-depth content analysis coding frame, the analysis measures news quantitative and qualitative data across 270 bulletins, approximately 148hrs, of news content across the seven elections from 1979 to 2005. In doing so, it fills two gaps in the existing literature. First, it provides the first dedicated and consistent longitudinal analysis of British election news. Given the acknowledged importance of television news in the modern political process, it is important to develop an understanding of how campaign news content has changed, both as a source of information for the public at moments of democratic renewal, and also in terms of the normative role of journalism in British politics. Second, it develops a toolkit by which political news content can be accurately and reliably measured. Most of the existing empirical research into British television election news content has employed inadequate or non-replicable measures, leaving a fragmentary body of data from which longitudinal conclusions cannot be drawn with confidence. By adapting and applying a series of measures based on other longitudinal media content studies, the thesis sets out a means by which future studies of news content can be guided.

The thesis thus generates new data on four aspects of election news content. First, it casts serious doubt on the "tabloidisation" thesis, demonstrating that news in British terrestrial news bulletins has retained both an overwhelmingly serious news agenda, and a substantial commitment to election news coverage. Not only have levels of campaign coverage remained steady, but campaign coverage has been given a consistently prominent place in news bulletins, indicating a lasting commitment to a more „sacerdotal‟ approach to campaign coverage on both BBC and ITV, despite increasing competition in the television environment. Second, an analysis of the balance of substantive policy content and strategic campaign coverage shows that journalists on British television news have adopted aspects of an increasingly adversarial approach to covering campaigns, and have tended to view their role ever more as interpreters of political messages and campaign actions. Third, the research shows comprehensive evidence of a dramatic shrinking of political soundbites over the period of study, and a replacement of disappearing politician speech by journalists who feature more and speak progressively more often over the period of study. Finally, in order to determine the effect of technological changes in television news reporting, the thesis compares campaign and non-campaign news output, determining that, while some
aspects of change in election news can be ascribed to technological changes, the rise of the journalist as the most prominent speaker in campaign news items cannot.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: News, journalism, british politics, media, elections
Subjects: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Politics
Supervisor's Name: Oates, Prof. Sarah
Date of Award: 2011
Depositing User: Dr Gordon Ramsay
Unique ID: glathesis:2011-2982
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 08 Nov 2011
Last Modified: 30 Sep 2015 07:38

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