Election takes toll on news consumption

Roger Mosey

Election apathy hit television news viewing figures and newspaper sales.

Broadcasters have seen audiences drop, with the good weather being blamed as well as the failure of the election contest to excite viewers. In the first three weeks of campaigning, audiences for Sky News in Sky Digital homes, BBC News 24 and ITN News Channel all dropped.

Sky News achieved a 5.6 million reach compared to News 24’s 4.5 million in multi-channel homes. But figures for digital homes throughout the election show that the channels have been way off the mark compared to peak figures. Shares for Sky News and News 24 dropped by almost half when compared to figures for big news stories such as the floods.

Despite the dip in figures, the BBC’s head of TV news, Roger Mosey, said it would be "unthinkable" for the BBC not to devote the larger part of its news coverage, particularly on BBC News 24, to the campaign.

"It’s completely our public service role," he said, "and it remains incredibly important when there is so much emphasis on how in a culture of sound bites it is difficult to get to real issues.

"The stories that gave us the really big viewing figures were the floods, fuel crisis and the Paris plane crash. Although the numbers interested in the election are comparatively small, it’s still very important we cover it." During the election campaign, the BBC’s Ten O’Clock News and ITV’s News at Ten both attracted an average audience of 4.4 million. The BBC bulletin has averaged around 4.9 million since its move to 10pm last year, although the figure is up from the 4.2 million who watched the Nine O’Clock News during the 1997 campaign. Viewing figures for ITV’s News at Ten were down 21 per cent on 1997.

Sun editor David Yelland said the election had been a dead hand on sales. "People are just not interested. It’s always like this in a General Election, but in this one it’s worse."

Piers Morgan of The Mirror has said that every time he puts the election on the front page, sales go down.

But a senior circulation director said this was not surprising, as this is traditionally a poor time of year for sales. "The only thing that sent everybody’s sales up next day was John Prescott landing that punch. I used to say Diana was the patron saint of sales; now it’s John Prescott," he said.

By Julie Tomlin

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