Credit: openDemocracy

University of Glasgow publishes report on media partisanship during the Scottish independence referendum

By Ben Short

A report has been published by the University of Glasgow on the media landscape and coverage surrounding the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum.

The University of Glasgow has published a report into media coverage of the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum. The report, titled ‘Scotland’s Sustainable Media Future’ was headed by numerous academics at the University, namely Cathrine Happer, Director of the Media Group; Phillip Schlesinger, Professor in Cultural Theory and Deputy Director of CREATe; as well as other senior lecturers within social sciences. Amongst the main focuses of the report is how the Scottish and UK media differed in how prepared they were to cover the referendum, and where gaps in coverage led to new forms of media being consumed. 

The report concluded that “some thought that coverage of the 2014 independence referendum was ideologically rooted in a form of liberal unionism.” This, they argued, had been largely tied to the predominance of a “London agenda in the UK media landscape which is becoming increasingly evident, coupled with a shrinking of the Scottish media sphere of influence – leading to bias of perspectives south of the border.”

Also noted was the tendency to move to small media outlets in the blogosphere by people who felt the UK mainstream media was not serving them. This lack of democratic representation of the campaign has been described as worrying by co-author, Dominic Hinde, who said: “People didn’t find the things they were looking for in the mainstream media and they went off and looked for other things. But those other things aren’t necessarily ethical, reliable, or even professional.

“And if you don’t give the public high quality, pluralistic media they are going to look for things that have a deeper meaning. When we, as media researchers with a democratic concern and perspective come across this, it’s worrying.” 

The report’s co-author Cathrine Happer told press that unionism bias is a result of structural issues within the media and journalism domain. Speaking to The National, she said: “People were dealing with these issues of historical editorial positions and ideological leanings and the fact that this made for a less balanced debate than perhaps it should have been…There’s also what we call this dual public, which is this awkward mix of existing British institutions with Scottish arms.” She added that: “The BBC is a British company, founded on Union principles, so it’s largely a structural issue.” However, according to Happer: “Many of the other media reporting on the question of independence are politically aligned. Their editorial stances may be rooted in partisanship, but for many of them they were biased in ways that made them less open to more balanced debate.” Were a second Scottish independence referendum to occur, it remains to be seen whether media sources both UK and Scotland wide have evolved to include a more pluralistic coverage of the issue. 

The report can be read in full here.


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