Research by the university Goldsmiths in London has found that the Evening Standard has “overwhelmingly” favoured Convervative candidate Zac Goldsmith in its news coverage of the London mayoral election.
The research by the Media Reform Coalition, which is based at the university, studied 121 articles about the election published between 8 February and 15 April (the front page pictured above is from this week).
It found that while news coverage showed “a consistent editorial slant favouring the Conservative candidate’s campaign”, editorial and comment pieces were evenly balanced – if anything, showing a slight balance in favour of Khan.
The study found that articles focusing on one or both of the candidates were twice as likely to favour Goldsmith over his Labour rival Sadiq Khan.
And it found that, in the period studied, 13 out of 15 Goldsmith press releases were run as news stories by the Standard versus three out of eight releases produced by the Khan campaign.
Researchers said that Khan attracted twice as many negative headlines as Goldsmith (12 versus six). And that three of these appeared on the front page, with six appearing on the first five pages.
By contrast, it found that the seven negative stories about Goldsmith received less prominence – with none appearing on the front page and only one in the first five pages.
The study suggests that negative Khan stories were given more space, with four spread across more than one page. It said that none of the six negative Goldsmith stories featured on more than one page.
Comment pieces and editorials were, however, a different story.
Khan penned two comment pieces for the paper over the dates studied, versus none by Goldsmith. Out of 28 remaining editorial or comment pieces studied, one was said to be supportive of Goldsmith and one critical.
The study said: “While the majority of news reports were framed as neutral or balanced in respect of the two main candidates, a significant proportion of these did betray a clear bias.
“It’s worth emphasising that this bias was not manifest in the expression of opinion, as is typical for editorial or commentary pieces, but rather in the selection of particular stories, issues and language that overtly favoured one campaign over the other. Consistently and overwhelmingly, these articles favoured Goldsmith.”
Goldsmiths media professer Angela Phillips said: “Newspapers are free to campaign for any candidate but where there is only one London-focused newspaper, which is handed out free to commuters across the transport network, editorial bias could have an undue influence on the outcome of the election or deepen distrust in journalism.
“This research demonstrates the need for a more plural news media.”
Justin Schlosberg, chair of the Media Reform Coalition said: “The Evening Standard appears to have been operating as the mouthpiece of the Conservative party, reproducing almost verbatim 13 out of a possible 15 news releases. Only three out of eight Khan campaign news releases were covered at all.”
Speaking to Press Gazette last week, before the research was published, Evening Standard editor Sarah Sand said: “We have been very, very scrupulous about equal coverage. They are pretty evenly matched at the moment.”
A source at the Evening Standard said today they were “surprised” by the research adding: ” Readers will know that there has been extensive coverage at every stage on all the candidates. There have been front page splashes, op ed opinion articles, personal features and hustings reports on Sadiq Khan as well as Zach Goldsmith, and indeed all the candidates have had extensive coverage, as has every aspect of the electoral debates. We have had no such complaints from any of the candidates.”
Khan is said to be ahead in the opinion polls ahead of the vote on 5 May.