Survey finds smaller parties squeezed out of election media coverage as Tories dominate newspapers

The media’s focus on Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn has resulted in a “two-party squeeze” leaving smaller parties struggling to get the levels of TV and newspaper coverage they enjoyed in previous general elections, new research has found.

Conservatives and Labour have between them taken up around 70 per cent of TV coverage and 84 per cent of election stories in the national press, while the Liberal Democrats, Ukip and Scottish National Party have seen their exposure reduced from the 2015 contest, found a report by Loughborough University’s Centre for Research in Communication and Culture.

And the survey, which covered the period May 5-10, found that May was the most prominent politician in the week’s coverage, featuring in almost one-third (32.4 per cent) of news items about the election, followed by Corbyn (21.4 per cent).

Fascination with Mrs May was such that her husband Philip was the fifth most-reported political figure, featuring in 4.3 per cent of stories on the back of his appearance alongside his wife on BBC1’s The One Show.

By comparison, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron featured in 6.4 per cent of news items, shadow chancellor John McDonnell in 6.1 per cent, European Council president Donald Tusk in 2.9 per cent and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall and the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon each in 2.6 per cent.

Conservatives were the most frequently reported and most extensively quoted party, particularly in the national newspapers. While the Tories only just outstripped Labour in terms of TV exposure – by 35.6 per cent to 34.7 per cent of coverage – they secured the lion’s share of press reporting on the election, featuring in 50.2 per cent of coverage, against 33.6 per cent for Labour.

Ukip saw its coverage fall by 10 per cent in the press and 3 per cent on TV compared to 2015, while the SNP (down 7 per cent in the press and 5 per cent on TV) and Liberal Democrats (down 3 per cent in the newspapers and 1 per cent in TV broadcasts) endured smaller declines.

Top subjects for discussion in the national media was the election process itself (featuring in 38.1 per cent of stories), followed by Brexit and the EU (16.2 per cent) and the economy and trade (6.8 per cent) – both subjects which Mrs May has put at the heart of her campaign.

By contrast, Labour’s favoured subjects of health and education have been less prominent, featuring in 3.6 per cent and 2.8 per cent of election news items respectively.

The researchers said there had been “significant” differences in coverage from the 2015 campaign, and suggested that part of this may be driven by regulator Ofcom’s decision in March to abandon the requirement for broadcasters to give significant coverage to any party deemed to have “larger party status”.

“So far, the minor parties have gained far less traction in media terms, with Conservative and Labour commanding higher levels of coverage in both TV and press terms than at the equivalent point two years ago,” said the researchers. “Of these two parties, it is the Conservatives that made the greatest gains.

“This two-party squeeze has been most pronounced in press coverage, where the Conservatives’ greater prominence in 2015 has been extended further. The list of the most frequently reported politicians shows the dominance of the two main party leaders, particularly the Prime Minister.”

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