Media coverage of last year’s election

Daily Ireland reports some interesting research on the coverage of the general and local election held on 5th May last year. It highlights some headline figures from research conducted by the Institute of Governance at Queen’s.

Unsurprisingly Daily Ireland gave by far the largest percentage of coverage to nationalist parties of any other of the other three main papers – with an even split between the SDLP and Sinn Fein each getting 48%.

However the research does not assess whether the coverage was positive or negative. So it is impossible to draw any conclusions on the positive or negative bias towards one party or the other. The UUP virtually fell off Daily Ireland’s radar.

Though it has to be said that the Newsletter virtually ignored the two nationalist parties. By far the greatest balance in coverage, at least in terms of mentions, was provided by the Irish News.

Regarding the local press:

…the local weekly papers were more likely to cover the local elections than were the Northern Ireland dailies. The local press was also more likely to cover ‘socio-economic’ issues in their coverage of both the UK Parliamentary election and local government election. They were also more likely to devote space to the smaller parties. The research suggested that the interviews conducted with party leaders on BBC’s Hearts and Minds concentrated on constitutional issues to the detriment of ‘socio-economic’ issues.

The report also contains a short report by The Pollen Shop on the dessemination of party literature. It found:

…the five main political parties in Northern Ireland were less likely to provide information in accessible formats than the major parties in Great Britain. Yhis may have been due to the fact that many smaller parties across the UK did not have the systems or structures in place to ensure communication tools such as websites or helplines provide for the needs of disabled people or those with low levels of literacy.

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  • slug


    “Unsurprisingly Daily Ireland gave by far the largest percentage of coverage to nationalist parties of any other of the other three main papers – with an even split between the SDLP and Sinn Fein each getting 48%.”

    How do you read the table – neither the rows nor the colums seem to add up to 100%

  • Keith

    slug, it’s soduku isn’t it?

  • Pete Baker

    Unless they’re the total number articles that reference those parties.. rather than percentages? Unlikely admittedly.

  • Mick Fealty

    Let me see if I can explain this and, ahem, try to get it right.

    The actual research has not been published, so the methodological explaination that would have accompanied it is not in the public domain – so I’m guessing somewhat. I’m sure someone will correct me.

    I think the reason they don’t add up, is because each figure is a percentage of the articles in which they show not a percentage of the total number of mentions.

    So if you look then at the identical per centage for Sinn Fein and SDLP, it is likely that every time the paper had an article that mentioned Sinn Fein, it will almost inevitably have mentioned the SDLP.

    That could be the result of strong editorial direction, or the natural bias of journalists on an avowedly Republican paper. What it doesn’t tell us is the nature of what they wrote about each of the two parties.

  • Pete Baker

    That sort of makes sense, Mick.

    Since they do give a total number of articles analysed – 655.

    But it would make more sense if they had included the total number of articles analysed per paper.. and then gave the number of articles which referenced each party in the table.

    And by not identifying favourable/non-favourable references [a difficult assessment admittedly] it does leave a quite important gap in the analysis – especially when they’re attempting to assess whether an individual paper is favouring one section [or even one political party] over another.

  • Mick Fealty

    I don’t think they are trying to go that far Pete. I would guess they didn’t do it because there are significant cost/resource implications to gathering that level of detail.

  • Pete Baker

    They’re only a short step away from it, Mick – they identify the references to each party already.

    Arguably they should be looking at any possible trend in that area, even with the limited analysis available.

  • slug


    That makes sense.

    Also its very difficult to say favourable/unfavourable. Thinking about your standard piece, the newspapers try to keep up the pretence of impartiality in the news, so that most could not be classified in this way.

  • Pete Baker

    In that vein, slug [and Mick], the figures for the DUP and the UUP could be said to provide an interesting comparison – more detailed analysis being absent.

  • Oilibhéar Chromaill

    I’m glad that this has sparked some sort of a debate. The point is I suppose that, in comparison, to other papers, none of which have been described by a Minister for Justice as akin to a propoganda sheet, come close to the Daily Ireland in terms of even handed election coverage.

    This is the only analysis that I’m aware of in the public domain by a non partisan party and therefore, perhaps,it might have a little more weight.

    However there are some on this site who will see nothing that doesn’t suit their narrow agenda, a world view which is intolerant of difference.

  • brendan,belfast

    My take on this research is that each time a party is mentioned it coounts as coverage. So the series of articles run by DI which from recall ranged from “SDLP in dissarary”, “SDLP In freefall” and “SDLP to lose Foyle”, “SDLP row in West Tyrone” etc etc all go towards Daily Ireland’s ‘balanced election coverage’.

    There does not seem to be an archive section on their web site but a few random copies from last May would tell the tale.

  • Yokel

    Figures are rounded up to 100% via articles involving the Workers Party….little dis they know that their posters wih the words ‘Deadlock..unlock’ would refer to Garland….

  • Belfastwhite

    “Unsurprisingly Daily Ireland gave by far the largest percentage of coverage to nationalist parties”

    As did the Irish News but we don’t need to have a dig at them do we Mick? Not to mention the biggest differential on Nationalist/Unionist split being achieved by Newsletter.

    So Mick maybe you can enlighten me as to why is this thread aimed at Daily Ireland?

  • Dk

    “So Mick maybe you can enlighten me as to why is this thread aimed at Daily Ireland?”

    Duh, was it because the article appeared in Daily Ireland.

  • urquhart

    OC’s point about Michael McDowell being wrong is interesting – I wonder what he would think of Direland being able to present the week long series of front page articles ‘exposing the meltdown’ of the SDLP in West Tyrone as evidence of balanced coverage?

  • Oilibhéar Chromaill

    Obviously you’re right Urgh, just because the SDLP vice chair resigns and calls the leadership of the party ‘ dinosaurs and wreckers’ doesn’t mean that there’s a breakdown in the party in west Tyrone. My God, what were DI thinking when they published those stories.

  • urquhart

    Apologies OC – but why would I mention Eddie Espie in a thread about election coverage??? I try to stick to the subject at hand.

    I was referring to the week long series of front page stories in DIreland in the run-up to May 05 about Kieran Deeney and the popular view that the SDLP was ‘tearing itself apart’ and ‘in meltdown’.

    Further, I don’t question their right to run such stories – I just marvel at the ability of MO’M to present it as evidence of ‘balance’ in the paper’s coverage of various political parties.

  • brendan,belfast

    Maybe i am missing the point here. Isn’t DI supposed to be an avowedly pro-republican, pro SF paper? so why should it attempt to be balanced toward the SDLP? and more importantly why would they pretend to be, or take any pride in being seen to be balanced? DI isnt balanced and i thought that the whole point of the project?

    By the way OC – the treatment of the Espie story is a classic example (flagged up in advance by someone on this blog). a nobody resigns from the party after losing a an argument. the DI version is “Crisis as party leader quits!” everyone else put this non story where it belonged – about two lines deep inside their papers.