Broadcasters’ reporting on Welsh devolution improved as a result of Covid, study finds
Reporting on Welsh devolution by broadcasters has improved, mainly as a result of Covid-19, a report has found.
The Ofcom-commissioned report by Professor Stephen Cushion of Cardiff University and Dr Richard Thomas of Swansea University looked at how the main public service broadcasters, and Sky News, reported on devolution on their main bulletins.
Professor Cushion and his team carried out an in-depth analysis of broadcast content between June and July 2021 and also conducted interviews with senior editors from each broadcaster to better understand the editorial choices they made.
They found that coverage of devolved issues had improved compared to similar studies in 2015 and 2016.
“The content analysis study found that UK network news providers have enhanced their coverage of devolved issues compared to previous findings in 2015 and 2016,” the report concludes.
“This was largely as a consequence of Covid-19, which brought devolution to the fore of UK politics. The analysis showed there was more news that was potentially relevant to devolution – approximately 40% of the news agenda – because of a focus on Covid rules made by devolved Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as by the UK Government about England.”
The analysis carried out by Professor Cushion’s team showed that devolution was a potentially relevant factor in about 40% of news items assessed during the study. Of these, about 3 in 5 reports referred to devolution to some degree, and two in five contained no guidance on relevance in different parts of the UK.
BBC television news reports provided far more references to devolved powers than other network news providers, and BBC online news provided more specific guidance on the relevance of devolved matters than television news.
Interviews with senior news editors also revealed that newsrooms were now increasingly aware of the need to accurately report devolved policy differences on the news.
All editors also agreed of the need to ensure that audiences understood whether an issue was relevant only to one or some of the UK’s nations. However, there was also a recognition of the challenges of recording the complexity of devolution given the time constraints when preparing and broadcasting bulletins.
But overall, despite increased coverage of the devolved institutions since 2015, opportunities are still being missed to explain the decisions of the various Governments, the report found.
“Interviews with senior news editors revealed that newsrooms have become increasingly conscious of reporting devolved policy differences in network news,” the report said.
“The study identified roughly 60% of news items potentially relevant to devolution that included some form of reference to one or more of the four nations. This meant around 40% of items did not include any signposting about the relevance of devolution, such as stating if a policy related to England only.
“When a devolved issue was covered, our analysis revealed few items compared Government decisions across the four nations.
“So, overall, while the study found more coverage of the devolved institutions, it also identified missed opportunities to explain different Government decisions across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”
The research team included Andy Nelmes, Sophie Timmermann, Marta Viganò, Katie Toms, Llion Carbis, John, Tasker Tasker and Claire Thurlow.
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