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UK media study shows how negative reporting shaped EU referendum debate

UK media study shows how negative reporting shaped immigration debate

A new report into coverage of immigration by the UK media ahead of last June’s EU referendum campaign has shown that leave-leaning titles helped shape public opinion by printing 79 of 99 front page stories on the issue.

Much of last year’s campaigning took place against the backdrop of a European refugee crisis which was duly seized upon by the likes of then UKIP leader Nigel Farage but in an effort to quantify its impact on the vote King’s College London’s centre for the study of media, communication and power (CMCP) looked at 15,000 separate articles published by 20 media outlets.

This found that immigration and the economy were the two biggest issues to be covered by leave and remain supporters, with media interest in the former more than tripling over the course of the 10-week campaign, predominantly from three right-wing websites; Mail Online, The Sun and The Express.

This ‘acrimonious and divisive’ discourse wasn’t limited to leave campaigners however with 82 front-pages carrying dire warnings about the possible impact of a vote to leave on the British economy – fueling voter perceptions of an establishment backed ‘Project Fear’.

The report observed: “Given the extent to which each side accused the other of dishonesty and scaremongering, and the extent to which these claims were picked up and often amplified in news outlets, it would be surprising if the public’s political trust had not diminished, and their fears had not increased, after the vote of 23 June 2016.”

Other publications to be analysed by the academics included BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post, the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky.