Crawl Across the Ocean

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Conservative Media - Part 2

Since I'm on the topic of media bias, I thought I'd go back and take a look at the one good information source I know of regarding media bias in Canada: the Observatory on Media and Public Policy, based out of McGill University, which tracked reporting in 7 newspapers during last year's Federal election.

If you like going to the source, I recommend downloading the spreadsheet (link at the site) with the nuts and bolts of their analysis.

(Aside: If you'd prefer to read a really dull, myopic viewpoint of the election campaign as it unfolded, I recommend reading the discussion from their 'roundtable' of pundits.)
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During the campaign there were 2,113 articles written about the election in the 5 English newspapers studied (The Calgary Herald, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, the Toronto Star and the Vancouver Sun).

Of those 2113, 1,711 (81%) mentioned the Liberal party. Out of those 1,711, there were 34 (2%) with positive mentions of the Liberal party and 342 (20%) with negative mentions of the Liberals, giving a 10 to 1 ratio of negative mentions to positive.

Meanwhile, for the Conservative Party, the figures were 1592 (75%) total articles, including 82 (5%) positive mentions and 159 (10%) negative mentions, for a roughly 2:1 ratio of negative to positive.

The NDP garnered (4%) positive mentions and 7% negative mentions, while the Bloc had the most favourable(!) coverage of any party from the English language papers at 4% positive, 5% negative (although they were only mentioned in 15% of stories).

Of course there may be any number of explanations for these results including the media rooting for the underdog, the media following poll shifts, a general unwillingness to praise the governing party, poorly/well run campaigns and so on. Still, it seems hard to say that media bias was anything but harmful to the Liberals.

It's interesting to look at the numbers by newspaper:

The Calgary Herald mentioned the Liberals in 76% of its election articles, with 0%(!) containing positive mentions, and 23% containing negative mentions (note: they did have one article with a positive mention, but it still rounded down to 0%).
Meanwhile they mentioned the Conservatives in 77% of their articles, of which 8% had positive mentions and 4% had negative mentions.

Globe and Mail: Mentioned Liberals (85%), positive 1%, negative 17%
Mentioned Conservatives (75%), positive 2%, negative 11%

National Post: Mentioned Liberals (81%), positive 1%, negative 35%(!)
Mentioned Conservatives (69%), positive 13%, negative 4%

Toronto Star: Mentioned Liberals (85%), positive 4%, negative 15%
Mentioned Conservatives (79%), positive 2%, negative 19%

Vancouver Sun: Mentioned Liberals (77%), positive 1%, negative 15%
Mentioned Conservatives (76%), positive 4%, negative 10%

Together, the Herald, Post, Sun and Globe combined to write 1305 articles about the Liberals with a grand total of 11 including positive mentions. Meanwhile the Post and Herald alone combined for 55 articles with positive mentions of the Conservatives.

So what does it all mean? - well, not a whole lot without having more elections to study, but next time you hear someone say how the media were out to get the Conservatives you may want to have a little chuckle. Also, you can see just how far out in bias land the Herald and the Post are while the Globe and Sun were closer to the Centre (although still anti-Liberal). Of all the papers, the Star was the closest to having equally negative coverage for both the Liberals and Conservatives, but it did have a slight pro-Liberal lean (vs. the Conservatives).

There's lots more info in the spreadsheet such as a breakdown by issue ('Accountability' got by far the most press, followed by Health Care, Social Issues, Tax Cuts and finally International Issues), a breakdown by type of coverage (52% horserace, 43% issues, 4% other - how sad is that?) and a daily tracking of all the articles (not to mention the raw data itself in case you feel like doing your own analysis.)

If only there were more of this kind of data available...

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5 Comments:

  • Declan, I followed this project with interest during the election. Unfortunately, I think the focus on statistics is flawed.

    For example, the G&M may have had a 17:1 ratio of negative to positive stories about the Grits, but at the end of the day, the editorial board endorsed them. The overwhelming message was: the Liberals are awful, but as horrible as we've been telling you they are, they're still better than the scary Conservatives.

    Stat's don't tell the whole story here.

    As far as your previous post is concerned, look a little deeper at the Aspers' political leanings (hint: Liberal Party of Canada). While still espousing a right-of-centre editorial position, The Post took a tangible jolt to the left (especially with its columnists - Sheila Copps and Buzz Hargrove for heaven's sake?) after Conrad Black sold it.

    I think the left-leaning Canadian MSM is one of the reasons the right-leaning Canadian blogosphere is so strong. It fills a void.

    By Blogger Babbling Brooks, at 9:03 AM  

  • No doubt that (like I said myself)stats don't tell the whole story, but they certainly tell part of the story. Sure, the Globe endorsed the Liberals, but like you say, if was a half-hearted endorsement at best. There was certainly no overwhelming message that the Liberals were a better choice than the Conservatives.

    An interesting article by Globe editor Greenspon on the subject can be found here: http://www.ehmac.ca/archive/index.php/t-21079.html (in the 11:50 post)

    As for CanWest, it used to be Liberal friendly when Izzy was still running things, but as the election coverage showed, those days are gone.

    I'm curious about the void which is being filled by right wing bloggers. Is this the void to the right of the National Post? I'm guessing that the % of the population which voted Green in the last election is larger than the % of the population to the right of the Post - so where's the huge list of Green bloggers?

    Seriously, what position do right wing blogs have to take up because there is no support for it in the National Post?

    To my mind, the real void in the media is in throrough, thoughtful coverage of a wide range of issues. For example, the McGill study I wrote about is probably the best source of data on media bias we have in this country.

    But let me know if you can find anywhere online in all of the Canadian media a more thorough analysis than mine (which only took about 2 hours of work).

    I'm not saying what I wrote was great, just that there should be a dozen more insightful and thorough pieces on it available from our media - but there aren't (at least not that I can find).

    By Blogger Declan, at 11:31 AM  

  • I don't think it's a void to the right of the Post, I think it's just a need for more than one conservative point of view. Canadians have a host of media-types who speak to a whole range of perspectives from the left side of the political spectrum - not so for the right.

    I've spoken with a number of other conservative bloggers about this, and many of them started blogging because, like me, they were tired of getting funny looks when they yelled at the TV and newspaper pages.

    I think we may be doomed to talk in circles about this, because there's no objective standard on where the centre lies. All I know is that very few folks in the Canadian MSM speak my language.

    Btw, I agree wholeheartedly with your assertion that we need more in-depth reporting. The sound-bite culture needs a shake-up.

    By Blogger Babbling Brooks, at 12:11 PM  

  • Well said, both of you.

    Declan, these are nice pieces you are doing, and your research is very revealing.

    I think what it ultimately shows is that Canada's media is not quite so Balkanized as the U.S. media, which has settled into warring camps. I think the media bias in Canada is more corporate than political. What bias there is tends to be worn on its sleeve: neither the Star nor the Post deny their leanings, so I consider that to be honest bias which I can take into account when reading them.

    Take CanWest's blacking out of the Senate Committee on media consolidation earlier this year. Since CanWest owns both Vancouver dailies and BCTV, no one covered that story. It took local bloggers and The Tyee to get that story into the public eye, and they dan't have a fraction of the reach CanWest has. This is not a right or left issue, it is one of corporate manipulation of the media.

    "For example, the G&M may have had a 17:1 ratio of negative to positive stories about the Grits, but at the end of the day, the editorial board endorsed them. The overwhelming message was: the Liberals are awful, but as horrible as we've been telling you they are, they're still better than the scary Conservatives."

    Newspaper endorsements are extremely overrated, Damian. If they counted for much, John Kerry would be president today, since he garnered many more endorsements thna Bush.

    The hidden bias in coverage is more important than overt endorsements in that it feeds into a meta-narrative about one side or the other, reinforcing prejudices.

    Good discussion, gentlemen.

    By Blogger Timmy the G, at 12:29 PM  

  • "All I know is that very few folks in the Canadian MSM speak my language."

    Fair enough - I've yelled at the TV/paper myself often enough and I'm fairly centrist (on average) - I just feel like there's bigger voids on the left than there is to the right so if it was just a void causing people to start blogging I'd expect to see more left leaning bloggers - I suspect there's a lot of other factors at work.

    Timmy - you make a good point, which is that media bias isn't just about left vs. right and also that the hidden bias can be more damaging than the one which people know about. Like you say, sometimes it is about what gets covered (or not) as opposed to being about how something is covered.

    By Blogger Declan, at 7:24 PM  

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