Archive for the 'Media' Category


The Independent bows to the inevitable and will stop its printed edition at the end of March

Friday, February 12th, 2016

How long before others go online only?

The big media news this lunchtime is that the Indy and Indy on Sunday will stop producing printed editions at Easter but is going to continue in an online form.

It had been struggling for some time and has seen a dramatic drop in the number of printed copies sold each day.

The I, however, will continue and is being sold.

This was inevitable. People have just stopped buying printed papers like they used to. Just take a trip on a commuter train and you’ll find very few people reading printed papers apart from the freebie, The Metro.

The smartphone is the new alternative and the Indy has developed a strongly online presence.

Mike Smithson


Why Team Corbyn might be on a loser attacking the trustworthiness of BBC journalists

Saturday, January 9th, 2016

The real problem, surely, is Labour’s poor media operation

The whole reshuffle affair has dominated the headlines for far too long and that’s not been good for the image of Corbyn’s Labour. As Damian McBride was saying in the PB/Polling Matters podcast yesterday the art of a reshuffle is to have it largely completed before word starts seeping to the media.

Instead we have had speculation going on for weeks so what should have been a 48 hour maximum story is still being discussed now.

The latest move, last night, to attack the BBC for the way it covered the resignation of one shadow minister has just prolonged things and highlighted a key problem the Corbyn’s setup – their media operation. When Seamus Milne, son of former BBC Director-General Alasdair Milne, got the LAB job he sought advice on how to do it from Laura Kuenssberg.

Meanwhile it’s worth looking at the polling. Above is the most recent YouGov “trust tracker” that I could find. It’s a bit out of date, November 2014, but it wasn’t much changed from previous surveys asking the same question. The numbers speak for themselves.

Mike Smithson


Do 1 in 5 British Muslims really ‘sympathise with Jihadis’?

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

Keiran Pedley looks at this morning’s front page of The Sun and argues that we should always check the small print when reading opinion polls.

As someone that has spent most of his professional life reading opinion polls I have always enjoyed this scene from Yes Minister where Sir Humphrey explains to Bernard how to rig an opinion poll. It’s a funny scene but does demonstrate a pretty important point that all pollsters know – opinion poll results are often as much about how the question is asked as what the question actually is.

This feels particularly relevant today as the front page of The Sun screams ‘1 in 5 Brit Muslims sympathy with Jihadis’. On face value, this is a very worrying finding for obvious reasons.


However, when you look at the data behind the headline things start to unravel a bit. It should be said first and foremost that polling a representative sample of a religious group is very difficult. Tom Mludzinski of ComRes and Maria Sobolewska of the University of Manchester explain why in more detail on last week’s PB / Polling Matters podcast here and Matt Singh is good on this today here too.

However, my real complaint about this poll is the complete disconnect between the wording of the question and the way the result has been displayed in this morning’s paper. The actual question wording can be found below. Keep in mind that this is the question that has led to the headline on the front page of The Sun claiming that one in five British Muslims have sympathy with Jihadis.

So what is wrong with this question? Firstly, it sets a very low bar for support. The one in five figure that The Sun quotes includes anyone that expresses at least ‘some’ sympathy with young Muslims that join fighters in Syria. However, I think that the words ‘sympathy’ and ‘fighters in Syria’ are the most important here. ‘Sympathy’ does not mean support. It can do but the link is not certain. It could just mean that they understand why a young person might go to Syria even if they disagree with the decision. Even more importantly, what should we suppose that ‘fighters in Syria’ actually means? Again, it ‘could’ mean ISIS or perhaps it doesn’t. Notice how the words ‘ISIS’ and ‘Jihadis’ are not mentioned in the poll question but are used in the headline and in this opening line of the supporting article.

This might sound very picky and pedantic but it is important. Let’s consider how an alternative question wording might have been answered.

Do you support or oppose young British Muslims leaving the UK to fight for ISIS in Syria?

1) Strongly support

2) Somewhat support

3) Neither support or oppose

4) Somewhat oppose

5) Strongly oppose

6) Don’t know

Not a perfect question by any means but you can see how it might have produced very different results to the one above. It makes the ‘fighting for ISIS’ point much more explicit.

Perhaps the question was not designed to elicit the headline that it did. This is a common problem for pollsters. We often have no control over how the results of our polls are presented in the public domain. However, in instances such as today – on such a sensitive topic and in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks – the media has a real responsibility to be careful with how it presents poll findings. I think The Sun has got it wrong this morning.

The average person on the street is not going to go to the trouble of scrutinising sampling techniques or question wording. What they will see is a headline on the front page of one of the most popular newspapers in the country that nudges to an ‘enemy within’ – with a giant picture of a knife-wielding ‘Jihadi John’ just in case you didn’t get the message. It leaves a sour taste to behonest.

In this piece I do not seek to play down the scale of the threat posed to our national security from Islamist terrorism. It is real and needs to be dealt with at home and abroad. However, the media has a real responsibility not to make things worse and today’s Sun splash was unhelpful in that regard and unjustified based on the data it was based on. After all, using the same data, it could just as easily have said ‘Just 1 in 20 British Muslims sympathise with those travelling to Syria’. I will leave others to judge why it did not.

Keiran Pedley tweets on polling and politics at @keiranpedley and presents the podcast ‘Polling Matters’


How readers of the different national papers voted at GE2015

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

I love this chart which has just been produced by YouGov. It shows the splits of the readerships of the main national newspapers at the general election in May.

Overall there’s nothing that’s really surprising though, perhaps, the fact that the Guardian has far fewer Lib Dem than the the FT,Times or the Telegraph comes as something as a surprise. Back in May 2010 the Guardian controversially endorsed Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems and then spent the next five years bitching about the party.

When I tweeted this earlier someone responded saying that they would love to meet a Guardian reader who actually voted UKIP. I certainly have not met one.

The Daily Express has been such an enthusiastic supporter for Nigel Farage and his party that I wonder if the purple team are a tad disappointed that they didn’t get a greater proportion of support.

Given the numbers of UKIP supporters who post on the Telegraph’s I’d have expected to see a much bigger segment for the purples.

Mike Smithson


David Herdson says “Set the BBC free and let it flourish”

Saturday, July 18th, 2015


We wouldn’t debate the ‘purpose’ of any other media organisation

In all the debate about the terms of the BBC’s renewed Charter, one question seems to have gone unasked, never mind unanswered: why does the BBC need a Charter at all? The political reason why it has one is that it’s the flip-side of being funded by a tax, enforceable in law and if it has that right then it must equally have certain duties. The current debate about what those duties should be is back-to-front: the question should be why such the BBC needs constraining at all.

In the beginning, the licence fee was entirely justifiable. It was only the rich who could afford first radio and then television, and even once the ownership of both became widespread, the BBC remained dominant in radio and the senior partner of a duopoly in TV, meaning that the Corporation was still funded by its viewers – because every TV owner was a viewer. The coming of multi-channel TV might have undermined that argument but the licence fee remained a practical necessity while signals were analogue.

That’s no longer the case and the digital TV revolution, apart from opening up choice far further, also makes real the possibility of switching to a subscription service. It’s a move that should be made as soon as possible because it would end the false debate about purpose.

Those who argue the BBC should not engage in ratings-chasing are wrong. Apart from the entirely obvious point that these programmes are precisely what millions of viewers do actually want, there’s another case for them: competition drives up standards. The quality not only of the BBC output but also that of ITV, Sky, Channel 4 and other players is improved when barriers aren’t artificially introduced. But those critics are right that the BBC shouldn’t abuse its institutional advantage. Their mistake is trying to tackle the symptoms rather than the cause.

There is another aspect to this, which is the BBC’s unique governance and regulatory position; again, a product of its one-time monopoly. There can be little doubt that the BBC has a strong sense of its own exceptionalism and, consequently, its ‘mission’. That’s not only informed by its Charter – though that very much (and rightly) forms part of it – but also by its historic role as the nation’s broadcaster. That is not necessarily a healthy thing, particularly when accountability is diluted in that unlike commercial stations, the BBC has no shareholders and is only partially accountable to OfCom.

So what should happen? I would suggest the following:

  • Abolish the licence fee and move to subscription funding as soon as practically possible.
  • Grant a new Charter to run only as long as the licence fee is needed
  • Replace the BBC Trust with a regular Board of Directors
  • Place the BBC on the same footing as any other broadcaster with respect to OfCom
  • Permit the BBC to play commercial adverts on TV and radio (which doesn’t necessarily mean it will do so universally across its output).
  • Some will argue that subscription funding is unpopular compared with the licence fee, and point to polls that support that. Fair enough, though I’d question how far those polls simply reflect habit. Were the question phrased “do you think the BBC should be funded only by those who watch it”, the responses may be different.

    I would also suggest one other reform. There are inherent conflicts of interest in any organisation owned by the state, both on the side of the broadcaster and on that of the state. As part of the normalisation process, the BBC should be turned into a mutual organisation owned by the licence fee payers (or, in the future, its subscribers). That should guarantee its independence and provide greater accountability while also protecting it from the harshest commercial pressures.

    What should not be allowed is for the status quo to simply continue. The media have changed more in the last ten years than in the Corporation’s first fifty. Change on at least the same scale can be expected over the next decade as people increasingly consume programming, radio, news and information in non-traditional ways. The BBC has tremendous ability but its historic legacy means that it is itself constrained while also being so dominant in some areas it stifles competition and innovation. Setting the Corporation free would not only be good for the entire media sector, it would be good for the BBC too.

    David Herdson


    The big problem with free TV licences for those 75+ is that a staggering one in six of all UK households qualify

    Wednesday, July 8th, 2015


    Gordon Brown’s 2001 exemption rule has a huge loophole which should never have been agreed

    From 1980-84 a big part my then job at the BBC was to deal with the PR and political issues relating to the corporation’s prime income source, the TV licence. None of the challenges that was as sensitive or as problematic as what should be done about the oldies who were required to pay the same fee as everybody else.

    There had been a long-standing campaign for oldies to get free licences which at one point in the early 80s saw some pensioners deliberately trying to get themselves sent to prison for non-payment of fines over their refusal to get a licence. The idea was that their incarcerations would be the focus of marches and other demonstrations.

    This was dealt with by secretly paying the outstanding fines and licence fees of the would be TV licence martyrs who were then released from jail much to their annoyance.

    On its return to power in 1997 LAB took up the cause of free TV licences for pensioners and in the 2001 general election year the current scheme was introduced by the then chancellor, Gordon Brown in a move to offer something to help win the pensioners vote.

    His plan was simple – all those aged 75 or more would get free licences irrespective of their financial circumstances. The massive problem was that the rules were drawn up far too widely so that any household with someone of that age living there qualified for the benefit even if everybody else there was younger.

      The result is that we now have the nonsensical situation in which one in six of all TV licences are now paid for out of central taxation irrespective of the incomes of everybody at the address.

    Clearly that has to change and the only households which would qualify are those where everybody is 75+.

    My reckoning is that Osborne has made his move to make the BBC fund this knowing that there’ll be less political damage to the Tories if the BBC is seen to be be trying to close down the Gordon Brown loophole and not the government.

    This is pure politics. Let the Beeb and not the Tories take the flak.

    Mike Smithson


    Why categorising people by which papers they read might not be as relevant any more

    Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

    UK Press Gazette

    What we think of as newspapers have become news brands

    YouGov makes a big deal in its weightings on which newspaper those on its polling panel say they read. This was introduced by the firm when it started polling in 2001 and has remained a key part since even though there has been a collapse in the number of printed copies of papers being sold each day.

    We are still consuming papers but in a very different way and now, in ad speak, the Mail, Mirror etc are now called “news brands” not “newspapers”. Looking at the table above you can see why.

    Until I saw these latest figures from the National Readership Survey I’d always rated the Sun as the top-selling, and therefore most influential, UK newspaper with the Indy, even combined with its low price “I” partner, right at the bottom.

    Now, thanks to the massive expansion in smartphone usage, the readerships in March show that the Indy is larger than the Sun. The scale of the numbers in the right hand column of the above table show a change in reading habits that is amazing.

    We all sort of knew that the internet was changing how we consume newspapers but it is the widespread use of smartphones with their easy to use newspaper apps that have produced the really big shift.

    Clearly the mobile, PC, and print readerships have a large degree of overlap which is why the figures in three right hand columns do not add up to the left hand one.

    One thing that is marked is how the papers with paywalls, the Sun in particular, are now well down the overall tables because of their much reduced mobile figures.

    Mike Smithson


    Maybe Ed Miliband has judged that the Tory press isn’t the force that it was

    Monday, February 9th, 2015

    And internet paywalls mean some papers have even less influence

    In yesterday’s Indy on Sunday (circulation down from 153,975 in January 2010 to 97,646 last month) John Rentoul was questioning the wisdom of the Miliband brother that he didn’t support for the LAB leadership in 2010 apparently taking on the “Tory press”

      Rentoul noted that Ed is currently on the end of some awful coverage which, no doubt, will intensify in the next three months. He’s correct about that but does it matter?

      Has the national press simply lost its political potency?

    Everybody’s aware that, as can be seen in the table above, sales have dropped sharply almost right across the board. The Sun, the big daddy of them all when it comes to perceived political influence, has seen a sales slump that has just taken it below the 2 million. Compare that with the 3 million it was selling at the last election and even higher circulations of general elections gone by. Other papers have experienced similar fall-offs.

    I don’t often take rush hours trains into London these days but when I do the only printed papers that fellow passengers appear to be reading is the freebie Metro with the majority paying most attention to their smart-phones or tablets.

    Ah, I hear you say, what about the power of the internet? Is not there where the national press is still a force? Yes and no. The Daily Mail is, I believe, the biggest newspaper website in the world while the Guardian gets a mass of traffic. They are both free. Several other papers – the FT, the Telegraph, The Times and The Sun – are now behind paywalls and only reach the “converted” – those ready to sign up for monthly subscriptions.

    I’ve seen it during the 11 years that I’ve run PB. In the early days my starting point before writing each morning’s post was to scan the websites of the national papers. No more. If there’s something significant it will be linked to by one of those I follow on Twitter or it will be posted on a PB discussion thread.

    Maybe the Miliband calculation about the national press is a correct one.

    Mike Smithson

    For 11 years viewing politics from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble