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This book assesses the extent to which British news organizations gave exposure and credence to different political interpretations of economics and business news in the decade before the 2008 Financial Crisis. Through the content analysis of some 1,600 news items, this study provides compelling empirical evidence to inform often theoretical debates about neoliberal assumptions in the media. In each of the three pre-2008 case studies – economic globalization, private finance and public services, and Tesco – Merrill finds that the Telegraph, The Times, the Sunday Times and, to varying extents, the Guardian-Observer and the BBC gave limited exposure and credence to ideas from the left of the political spectrum. As such, he builds an important comparative picture of economic, business and financial journalism in the period before the defining event of the decade, the effects of which continue to resonate.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. The Nature and Nurture of EBF Journalism

Audiences, History, Production, Sources, Political Economy and Content
Abstract
Although research in economic, business and financial (EBF) journalism has boomed over the last decade, much activity has centred on the 2008 Financial Crisis. While this sub-corpus is undoubtedly useful, studies typically view the episode in isolation. A more satisfying approach is to consider EBF journalism’s performance in the prelude to the Crisis as one of a succession of apparent ‘failures’ to provide the appropriate news for a range of stakeholders. Previous works have shown how journalism played a central role in financial crises of the past, including the rise and fall of Enron; the dot-com bust of 2000; the Wall Street Crash of 1929; and the bursting of the South Sea Bubble in 1720. Research demonstrates that EBF news tends to concentrate on the requirements of investors, and often neglects the needs of other, non-specialist, stakeholder audiences that include consumers, employees and citizens. This is inevitable given a news production process in which journalists gravitate to elite sources and work in political-economic environments that are supportive of neoliberalism.
Gary James Merrill

Chapter 2. Research Design

Case Studies, News Media, Political Positions and Methods
Abstract
The primary purpose of this book is to analyse the exposure and credence given by the British news media to different interpretations of the economic environment in the decade before the 2008 Financial Crisis. By employing two complementary research methods, it assesses the coverage given to disparate political narratives in three different contexts by four different news organisations over a ten-year period. This chapter covers the research design. First, it explains the choice of case studies (economic globalisation, private finance in British public services, and Tesco) and the news media (the BBC, the Times-Sunday Times, the Daily/Sunday Telegraph and the Guardian-Observer). The bulk of the chapter is devoted to three contextualising sections, one for each of the case studies, which outline the competing arguments and narratives evident in mediated debates. The final section describes the methodology and explains how the political content of news was assessed through a combination of quantitative content analysis and critical discourse analysis.
Gary James Merrill

Chapter 3. The Battle for Free Trade

The Reporting of Economic Globalisation in 1999
Abstract
The World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference in Seattle in 1999 was a crucial moment in the development of economic globalisation. Delegates from national governments agreed that the trajectory of global trade was towards liberalisation. Outside of the Conference, however, an informal coalition of trade unions, environmental groups and NGOs highlighted the negative social consequences of this form of globalisation. With its statutory commitment to impartiality, one might expect the BBC to give credence to both positions. But the analysis of articles published around the time of the Conference reveals that the BBC’s coverage bore greater resemblance to the overtly pro-liberalisation Times and Sunday Times than the more traditionally left-leaning Guardian and Observer. Although the latter pair generally supported the progressive reformers, radical interpretations were excluded, and in very few instances were arguments for a more humanised version of economic globalisation pitched on equal terms against the dominant discourse
Gary James Merrill

Chapter 4. Union Canutes Cannot Halt PFI

The Reporting of Private Finance in British Public Services in 2002 and 2007
Abstract
The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) was one of the most contentious policies of Tony Blair’s government. In the first four years of his Labour administration, some 450 contracts had been signed for new schools, hospitals, infrastructure and other projects. Supporters argued that private finance would help rejuvenate public services and quickly compensate for decades of under-investment, while still allowing strict public sector spending targets to be achieved. Opponents of PFI, however, believed long-term cost far outstripped short-term benefit. There were also concerns about private companies becoming directly involved in health, education, defence and other parts of the British public sector. The competing arguments were forced into the open at the Labour Party Conference in September 2002. Over the period of analysis, the Guardian/Observer sided with the PFI sceptics, whereas the Daily and Sunday Telegraph favoured PFI. Although the quantitative analysis suggests the BBC gave equal exposure to both sides, its dominant discourse supported the government’s position. In a second sample period five years later, there was scant sign of mediated debate. Across all three news organisations, private finance was invariably presented in plain, descriptive terms and was framed as inevitable and non-problematic.
Gary James Merrill

Chapter 5. How Sinful Is Your Shopping Basket?

The Reporting of Tesco in 2006, 2007 and 2008
Abstract
In 2006, the Competition Commission announced an inquiry into the British groceries market. The investigation focussed on the four leading supermarket chains which, between them, had captured two-thirds of the market. This case study analyses how three news organisations covered the largest supermarket company, Tesco, at three key points over the period of the investigation. More precisely, it assesses the exposure and credence given to two competing perspectives of supermarket power. Whereas supporters argued that supermarkets had benefited investors, created jobs and provided convenience for shoppers, others believed that supermarkets, Tesco in particular, were too large and had a negative impact on society. This analysis reveals that arguments against Tesco received detailed coverage, particularly in the left-of-centre Guardian. Even so, only two of the five reformist narratives—local communities and the environment, and competition and consumers—had significant exposure. The Telegraph showed sympathy for some stakeholder concerns, but its journalism clearly supported the status quo. Although the BBC had the most balanced sourcing profile, it too generally followed the corporate narrative.
Gary James Merrill

Chapter 6. Summary and Discussion

Abstract
The preceding chapters suggest that mainstream British economic, business and financial (EBF) journalism tends to cover issues within relatively restricted parameters of debate, around a ‘consensus’ that is largely consistent with the views of the corporate and political elites. There is some divergence, however, and each of the featured news organisations has its own house tradition that gives some political variety. The case studies show that the Telegraph newspapers, The Times and the Sunday Times were supportive of laissez faire, the primacy of profit, and reduced government regulation. The Guardian-Observer gave some exposure and credence to ideas from the left but tended to exclude radical thinking. Although the BBC is often accused of having a left-wing/anti-business bias, its reporting had demonstrably more in common with the right-wing newspapers than the Guardian-Observer. These findings contribute to contemporary debates about the political content of news, and the portrayal of individuals and ideas from the left of the political spectrum. Further research in this sphere might help promote a more inclusive journalism in the future. It is debatable, however, if the well-established production processes that generate EBF news with such a deficit of political perspectives can be changed in the short or medium term.
Gary James Merrill

Backmatter

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