The media coverage of Jeremy Corbyn has been characterised by a “marked and persistent imbalance” in favour of sources critical to him, a report has claimed.
On TV news, which is bound by strict impartiality rules, double the airtime was given to sources critical of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn than to those supportive of him, the report found.
Online coverage was better but there was also a prevalence of views against Mr Corbyn, according to the researchers from the Media Reform Coalition and Birkbeck, University of London.
Across 10 days, the study analysed 465 online articles from eight news websites and 40 prime time news bulletins from the BBC and ITV. The research spanned the period between the series of shadow cabinet resignations aimed at removing Mr Corbyn, and the publication of the Chilcot report.
The BBC was especially criticised in the report, which found reporters in its main evening broadcasts used more “pejorative language” to describe Mr Corbyn and his supporters. However, the research did not look at the wider range of BBC political journalism which appeared outside of these times.
BBC journalists used language deemed by the researchers to “emphasise hostility, intransigence and extreme positions” more frequently in these programmes, such as the words "hostile" and "hard core".
In addition, almost twice as much unchallenged airtime was given to people criticising Mr Corbyn than his allies on the BBC, the report found.
The most ridiculous claims made about Jeremy Corbyn
The most ridiculous claims made about Jeremy Corbyn
1/11 He called Hezbollah and Hamas ‘friends’
True. In a speech made to the Stop the War Coalition in 2009, Mr Corbyn called representatives from both groups “friends” after inviting them to Parliament. He later told Channel 4 he wanted both groups, who have factions designated as international terror organisations, to be “part of the debate” for the Middle East peace process. “I use (the word ‘friends’) in a collective way, saying our friends are prepared to talk,” he added. “Does it mean I agree with Hamas and what it does? No. Does it mean I agree with Hezbollah and what they do? No.”
2/11 ‘Jeremy Corbyn thinks the death of Osama bin Laden was a tragedy’
Partly false. David Cameron used this as a line of attack at the Conservative Party conference but appears to have left out all context from Mr Corbyn’s original remarks. In an 2011 interview on Iranian television, the then-backbencher said the fact the al-Qaeda leader was not put on trial was the tragedy, continuing: “The World Trade Center was a tragedy, the attack on Afghanistan was a tragedy, the war in Iraq was a tragedy.”
3/11 He is ‘haunted’ by the legacy of his ‘evil’ great-great-grandfather
False. A Daily Express exposé revealed that the Labour leader’s ancestor, James Sargent, was the “despotic” master of a Victorian workhouse. Addressing the report at the Labour conference, Mr Corbyn said he had never heard of him before, adding: “I want to take this opportunity to apologise for not doing the decent thing and going back in time and having a chat with him about his appalling behaviour.”
4/11 Jeremy Corbyn raised a motion about ‘pigeon bombs’ in Parliament
This one is true. On 21 May 2004, Mr Corbyn raised an early day motion entitled “pigeon bombs”, proposing that the House register being “appalled but barely surprised” that MI5 reportedly proposed to load pigeons with explosives as a weapon. The motion continued: “The House… believes that humans represent the most obscene, perverted, cruel, uncivilised and lethal species ever to inhabit the planet and looks forward to the day when the inevitable asteroid slams into the earth and wipes them out thus giving nature the opportunity to start again.” It was not carried.
5/11 He rides a Communist bicycle
False. A report in The Times referred to Mr Corbyn, known for his cycling, riding a “Chairman Mao-style bicycle” earlier this year. “Less thorough journalists might have referred to it as just a bicycle, but no, so we have to conclude that whenever we see somebody on a bicycle from now on, there goes another supporter of Chairman Mao,” he later joked.
6/11 'Jeremy Corbyn will appoint a special minister for Jews'
False so far. The Sun report in December was allegedly based on a “rumour” passed to the paper by a Daily Express columnist who has written pieces critical of the Labour leader in the past. The minister did not materialise in his shadow cabinet.
7/11 ‘Jeremy Corbyn wishes Britain would abolish its Army’
False. Another gem from The Sun took comments made at a Hiroshima remembrance parade in August 2012 where Mr Corbyn supported Costa Rica’s move to abolish it armed forces. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every politician around the world…abolished the army and took pride in the fact that they don’t have an army,” he added. The caveat that “every politician” must take the step suggests Mr Corbyn does not support UK disarmament just yet.
8/11 Jeremy Corbyn stole sandwiches meant for veterans
False. The Guido Fawkes blog claimed that the Labour leader took sandwiches meant for veterans at at Battle of Britain memorial service in September but a photo later emerged showing him being handed one by Costa volunteers, who later confirmed they were given to all guests.
9/11 He missed the induction into the Queen’s privy council
True. After much speculation about Mr Corbyn’s republican views and willingness to bow to the monarch, his office confirmed that he did not attend the official induction to the privy council because of a prior engagement, but did not rule out joining the body.
10/11 Jeremy Corbyn refuses to sing the national anthem.
Partly true. The Labour leader was filmed standing in silence as God Save the Queen was sung at a Battle of Britain remembrance service but will reportedly sing it in future. Mr Corbyn was elusive on the issue in an interview, saying he would show memorials “respect in the proper way”, but sources said he would sing the anthem at future occasions.
11/11 He is a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Cheese
True. The group lists its purpose as the following: “To increase awareness of issues surrounding the dairy industry and focus on economic issues affecting the dairy industry and producers.”
ITV News was found to have given “considerably more equal attention” to opposing views.
But both outlets were found to have a “huge imbalance” of issues in favour of Mr Corbyn’s critics, particularly in headline stories.
Online coverage, including that of the BBC, was found to be more balanced by the researchers.
The Independent was among the online outlets found to have had the most balanced coverage of Mr Corbyn, along with the Huffington Post and International Business Times.
While The Independent and Huffington Post “exhibited a slight tendency to favour sources critical of the Labour leadership and the issues they tended to highlight,” the IBTimes was the only outlet to have given “relatively greater prominence” to Mr Corbyn’s supporters and issues they raised.
“This research shows that bias in mainstream media coverage of the Labour Party crisis was not inevitable or unavoidable given a minority of outlets that were relatively balanced,” said Dr Justin Schlosberg, chair of the Media Reform Coalition and author of the report.
“Amidst the social fracturing and polarisation of democratic life post-Brexit, the need for a more plural and inclusive mainstream news media has never been more urgent. We hope that broadcasters and editors will respond positively to our call to consider the impact of imbalanced reporting on the democratic process.”
Film-maker and activist Ken Loach commented: “This invaluable research demonstrates that what we knew all along is true beyond doubt. The broadcasters, particularly the BBC, have shown a clear bias against Jeremy Corbyn and his campaign. This must now change.”
A spokesperson for the BBC responded: “BBC News adheres to its editorial guidelines to report with due impartiality. We are confident our coverage of Labour’s unprecedented en masse frontbench resignation was impartial and we continue to air views from both sides of the party’s ongoing divisions.”