Negative coverage of EU in UK newspapers nearly doubled in 40 years, study finds

Positive coverage fell from 25 per cent to 10 per cent

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Negative coverage of the European Union in British newspapers nearly doubled over the last 40 years, a study has found.

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) found negative coverage of the EU increased from 24 per cent to 45 per cent between 1974 and 2013, at the “expense of positive and neutral coverage”.

Positive coverage fell from 25 per cent to 10 per cent over the same period.

The study, published in the Journal of Common Market Studies, analysed 16,400 newspaper articles during five periods from 1974 to 2013 during which the EU was highly prominent in UK news.

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By individually analysing each newspaper, the authors showed negative coverage increased steadily from the mid-1970s to the mid-2010s, a period in which centre-right tabloids increased their EU coverage. 

By the mid-2010s, 85 per cent of EU coverage in the Daily Mail was negative, compared with less than 25 per cent in the mid-1970s.

Coverage of the EU in centre-right broadsheet newspapers such as The Times and the Financial Times remained stable and tended to be factual and based on a pragmatic “cost-benefit” perspective, the study found.

The researchers said the study illustrates how a minority view can come to be accepted into the mainstream.

Dr Paul Copeland, senior lecturer at QMUL, said: “While coverage across the 40 year period stays fairly stable in terms of volume, there’s a significant increase of negative coverage in centre-right tabloids.

“Our results show that with the exception of the Daily Mirror, the only counter-weight to the noisy and negative minority is factual and neutral reporting: good journalism, but not necessarily effective as a spirited public defence of the EU.”

He added: “What is interesting is that the ‘noisy minority’ in the media is reflected so acutely in politics. The pro-European cause is made without passion or vigour.

“It is the absence of a truly pro-EU faction that gives the impression that the UK is more Eurosceptic than it truly is. There are no real defenders of the EU to be found.”