Negative coverage of the EU in UK newspapers nearly doubled over the last 40 years, study finds

March 3, 2017
Credit: Queen Mary, University of London

A study co-authored by researchers at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) has revealed that negative coverage of the European Union in UK newspapers increased from 24 per cent to 45 per cent between 1974 and 2013.

The study analysed 16,400 newspaper articles in five periods during which the EU was highly prominent in the UK news: (1) 1974-75 during which the UK held a post-election referendum on membership; (2) 1985-86 during the negotiations and agreement of the Single European Act; (3) 1991-92 during negotiations on the Maastricht Treaty; (4) 2001-02 during the Nice Treaty negotiations; (5) 2012-13 around the time of David Cameron's pledge to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the EU and hold an in-or-out referendum on membership.

Articles in five UK newspapers (The Daily Mail, The Financial Times, The Guardian, The Daily Mirror, and The Times) were categorized in terms of their reporting of the EU, which was classified as either positive, negative, mixed, or factual. Adjusting the data for readership, the results show that negative reporting has significantly increased between 1974 and 2013, at the expense of positive and neutral . Positive coverage overall has fallen from 25 per cent in 1974-75 to 10 per cent in 2012-13.

An individual analysis of each newspaper showed that negative coverage increased steadily between the mid-1970s and mid-2010s, a period in which centre-right tabloids increased their coverage of the EU. By the mid-2010s 85 per cent of EU coverage in the Daily Mail was negative, compared with less than 25 per cent in the mid mid-1970s.

Among centre-right broadsheet newspapers (The Times and the Financial Times) meanwhile, coverage of the EU remained stable and tended to be factual and based on a pragmatic "cost-benefit" perspective.

The researchers argue that the study supports the idea that Euroscepticism in the UK is a classic case of 'issue capture', where a small but committed minority view comes to be accepted into the mainstream of public life. These findings are supported by opinion poll data which show that negative opinions on the EU across the UK are relatively low and stable over time.

Dr Paul Copeland, co-author and Senior Lecturer at QMUL said, "While coverage across the 40 year period stays fairly stable in terms of volume, there's a significant increase of negative coverage in centre-right tabloids. Our results show that with the exception of the Daily Mirror, the only counter-weight to the noisy and negative minority is factual and neutral reporting: good journalism, but not necessarily effective as a spirited public defence of the EU."

He added: "What is interesting is that the 'noisy minority' in the media is reflected so acutely in politics. The pro-European cause is made without passion or vigour. It is the absence of a truly pro-EU faction that gives the impression that the UK is more Eurosceptic than it truly is. There are no real defenders of the EU to be found."

The research is published in the Journal of Common Market Studies and is co-authored by Nathaniel Copsey from Aston University.

Explore further: Newspapers lose their balance on climate coverage

More information: Paul Copeland et al, Rethinking Britain and the European Union: Politicians, the Media and Public Opinion Reconsidered, JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies (2017). DOI: 10.1111/jcms.12527

Related Stories

Newspapers lose their balance on climate coverage

December 1, 2011

The first of a two-part analysis of Australian press coverage of climate change, A Sceptical Climate, is based on a comprehensive review of 3971 media articles published in ten Australian newspapers on the topic of climate ...

When casualties increased, war coverage became more negative

September 15, 2014

As the number of U.S. casualties rose in Afghanistan, reporters filed more stories about the conflict and those articles grew increasingly negative about both the war effort and the military, according to a Penn State researcher. ...

Recommended for you

UN says world population will reach 9.8 billion in 2050

June 22, 2017

India's population is expected to surpass China's in about seven years and Nigeria is projected to overtake the United States and become the third most populous country in the world shortly before 2050, a U.N. report said ...

The story of music is the story of humans

June 20, 2017

How did music begin? Did our early ancestors first start by beating things together to create rhythm, or use their voices to sing? What types of instruments did they use? Has music always been important in human society, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.