Report reveals dramatic drop in foreign news coverage

Foreign news coverage in the UK national press has dramatically fallen over the last 30 years, according to a new report by the Media Standards Trust.

Report author Martin Moore compared coverage in The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Daily Mirror in the first week of March 1979, with the same weeks in 1989, 1999 and 2009.

He found there were nearly 40 per cent fewer foreign news stories in 2009 and that foreign news, as a percentage of total coverage, had dropped from 20 per cent to 11 per cent (because newspapers had got bigger).

The decline in foreign news coverage has been most dramatic at the Daily Telegraph, which carried over 225 foreign news stories in the first week of March 1979 and around 120 in the same period in 2009.

The research shows that The Guardian dropped from 175 foreign stories in 1979 to 125 in 2009. The Daily Mirror and Daily Mail both dropped from around 50 stories to 30.

When it comes to the prominence given to international news the decline is even more dramatic. In 1979 some 441 foreign stories appeared in the first ten pages of the four newspapers studied (Monday to Friday), in 2009 that figure had dropped by 80 per cent to 86.

One reason for the reduction in coverage is the fact that newspapers now have far fewer foreign correspondents.

Moore uses the example of the Daily Mail’s Moscow reporter Harry Edgington who published a series of scoops in the 1990s about the collapse of the Soviet Union including, in 1990, the revelation that Soviet troops had surrounded the city of Baku in Azerbaijan.

Moore writes that there is a danger that foreign news reporting is becoming much more reactive.

‘Without people on the ground, sniffing out the news before it happens, news organisations are always going to be reacting to events and playing catch up. Journalists, parachuted in to a disaster or conflict zones will be ‘boxing blind’ – unaware of where the story started, who the best people to speak to are, or how it is likely to play out.”

He uses the example of the Israeli assault on the aid ship Mavi Marmara which tried to breach the Gaza blockade creating a massive international story in May 2010.

He notes that only one UK newspaper wrote about the flotilla and boat before the attack, which appeared to come as a surprise to the media.

‘Yet as soon as the flotilla set off it must have been apparent to any seasoned observer that it would not dock in Gaza without some action by the Israelis.”

Moore notes that the Financial Times and Economist are both examples of publications which have shown foreign reporting can be lucrative.

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