The London Evening Standard’s coverage of the mayoral elections is “consistently and overwhelmingly” in favour of Conservative candidate, Zac Goldsmith, according to new research.
A study conducted by the Media Reform Coalition and Goldsmiths, University of London revealed a “consistent editorial slant” in stories covering the elections from February to April. Despite an even spread of coverage relating to the two candidates, articles were nearly twice as likely to favour Goldsmith over the Labour candidate, Sadiq Khan, who was subjected to twice as many negative headlines.
Justin Schlosberg, chair of the Media Reform Coalition said: “The Evening Standard appears to have been operating as the mouthpiece of the Conservative party, reproducing almost verbatim thirteen out of a possible fifteen news releases.
“Only three out of the eight Khan campaign news releases were covered at all.”
One of the Standard’s ‘exclusive’ headlines was devoted to attempting to link Khan, by association, to people with an Islamic extremist background. The ‘link’ was his ex-brother in law’s supposed connection to an extremist organisation some 20 years ago.
Two of the negative stories about Goldsmith were focused on his tax affairs. Despite being a national story with high press coverage one only made it to page ten.
Khan was subject to three negative front-page headlines, and a further six in the first five pages of the newspaper “where they would most likely to be seen”, according to the report. In contrast none of the six negative headlines for Goldsmith was featured on the front page over the two-month research period; they tended to be much further back in the paper.
The study concluded there is an “urgent need for media plurality reform.” As the only London-focused newspaper, and with more than 900,000 copies distributed daily, the Evening Standard has an “unrivaled degree of market penetration.”
Professor Angela Phillips, a media and communications lecturer at Goldsmiths, said: “A truly free press depends on audiences having the opportunity to access an alternative view.
“I have no problem with the fact that the national newspapers in this country are biased. We know they are. But there are a number of them, so you can always find out what is being said from another perspective.”
However, Phillips said the Standard was the only solely London-focused newspaper handed out to commuters across the transport network for free. The paper’s only competition in London is the national morning newspaper the Metro.
Phillips added: “I think that we have to assume that there are people who believe what they read in newspapers, and for people who are undecided about the election [Evening Standard bias] could well make a difference. It may for some people tip them to vote for another candidate.
“On the one hand there are people who don’t understand that it’s a Conservative-supporting newspaper, who might take those stories at face value.
“On the other hand there are a lot of people whose faith in newspapers in general is being undermined by reading material on a daily basis which they know is biased.”
In a statement issued to The Guardian, the Evening Standard denied any bias and claimed it had given candidates fair coverage, citing a recent interview with Khan that appeared on the front-page.