The London newspaper bias: half of "national" news is about the south east

After surveying the regional bias of eight national newspapers over the course of two weeks, we found that 49.1 per cent of supposedly regionally-based news is focused on London and the south east.

When Helen Pidd took over as the Guardian’s only “Northern Editor” in January of this year, she quickly conceded that the job is “far too much for one person to do”. You don’t say. Alongside politics, business, law, sport and more, the printed press is just another industry indulging in a sycophantic obsession with the south east.

What’s more, I can prove it.

For ten weekdays in two consecutive weeks at the end of July, I monitored the regional bias of ‘national’ newspaper coverage. Looking at the eight most renowned national daily papers (The Mail, Independent, Times, Guardian, Telegraph, Sun, Mirror, and Express), I noted down which region each article covered. The results are depressingly predictable.

Even excluding stories covering Westminster, 49.1 per cent of articles which were based on a particular region, centred on London and the south east. This region only possesses 26.6 per cent of the national population.

With the exception of the north west (which actually received slightly too much coverage in proportion to population) and the west and south west (which received marginally less), all other regions were noticeably under-represented.

As a Brummie, I can only bemoan the fact that despite possessing 16 per cent of the UK population, only 11.3 per cent of articles were based on the midlands. The north east received only 2.9 per cent (with 4.1 per cent of the population), the east 4.7 per cent (9.3 per cent of the population), Yorkshire 5.5 per cent (8.4 per cent of the population) and Wales 3.6 per cent (with 4.9 per cent of the population).

Image by Hector Crespo

The nationalistic tendencies of Scotland and Northern Ireland will also surely be aided by the lack of coverage they receive in the so-called ‘national’ press. Despite possessing 8.4 per cent of the UK population, only 2.6 per cent of articles with a regional focus were based on Scotland. Northern Ireland was covered by a mere 0.3 per cent of these articles, while it makes up 2.9 per cent of the UK population.

Although both of these regions have their own strong local press outlets, it’s farcical to label our main newspapers ‘national’ newspapers given these numbers. Plus, why should we assume that the rest of the UK has no interest in the affairs of other regions?

The bias becomes even more apparent when looking at articles with more than 300 words. A staggering 58.6 per cent of these articles were centred on London and the south east. Apparently there aren’t only more stories there, there is also more to say about them.

Perhaps surprisingly, the main offenders were towards the centre and the left of the political spectrum.  An astonishing 70.1 per cent of the Independent’s regionally based articles were centred on the south east. Helen Pidd’s Guardian was an easy second, but can hardly be proud of its 59 per cent. The Mirror boasts the least south east centric approach, yet still, a disproportionate 38.2 per cent of its regionally based coverage centred on the area surrounding the M25.

Of course, the natural counter to such an obvious bias is to argue that newspapers are only reporting where more news occurs. Surely London and the south east have more important institutions, more famous people, more significant events? Surely all the newspapers are doing are reflecting a broader structural concentration of newsworthy stories in the south east?

Well, no. In fact, although there is a lamentable skew of so many industries towards the south east, the newspapers themselves are still biased.

In addition to listing only regional focused articles, I also tallied those national stories which used an example from a particular region - like, for instance, the very national heat-wave we have been treated to this summer. Of these articles, an astonishing 60.1 per cent listed London and the south east as their first example. Despite the fact that the article wasn’t exclusively about the south east, and despite the fact that an example from anywhere else in the UK would have sufficed, newspapers demonstrated an instinctive tendency to prioritise the south east.

Our national newspapers are not only covering a depressingly south east centric nation, they are also depressingly south east centric themselves.

 

Excluding Westminster news, a staggering 49.1 per cent of regionally based stories centered on London and the south east. Picture:Getty Images.
Photo:Getty
Show Hide image

Labour is a pioneer in fighting sexism. That doesn't mean there's no sexism in Labour

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

I’m in the Labour party to fight for equality. I cheered when Labour announced that one of its three Budget tests was ensuring the burden of cuts didn’t fall on women. I celebrated the party’s record of winning rights for women on International Women’s Day. And I marched with Labour women to end male violence against women and girls.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing for women across the country. But, as the Labour party fights for me to feel safer in society, I still feel unsafe in the Labour party.

These problems are not unique to the Labour party; misogyny is everywhere in politics. You just have to look on Twitter to see women MPs – and any woman who speaks out – receiving rape and death threats. Women at political events are subject to threatening behaviour and sexual harassment. Sexism and violence against women at its heart is about power and control. And, as we all know, nowhere is power more highly-prized and sought-after than in politics.

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee recently stated that political parties should have robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment. The committee looked at this thanks to the work of Gavin Shuker, who has helped in taking up this issue since we first started highlighting it. Labour should follow this advice, put its values into action and change its structures and culture if we are to make our party safe for women.

We need thorough and enforced codes of conduct: online, offline and at all levels of the party, from branches to the parliamentary Labour party. These should be made clear to everyone upon joining, include reminders at the start of meetings and be up in every campaign office in the country.

Too many members – particularly new and young members – say they don’t know how to report incidents or what will happen if they do. This information should be given to all members, made easily available on the website and circulated to all local parties.

Too many people – including MPs and local party leaders – still say they wouldn’t know what to do if a local member told them they had been sexually harassed. All staff members and people in positions of responsibility should be given training, so they can support members and feel comfortable responding to issues.

Having a third party organisation or individual to deal with complaints of this nature would be a huge help too. Their contact details should be easy to find on the website. This organisation should, crucially, be independent of influence from elsewhere in the party. This would allow them to perform their role without political pressures or bias. We need a system that gives members confidence that they will be treated fairly, not one where members are worried about reporting incidents because the man in question holds power, has certain political allies or is a friend or colleague of the person you are supposed to complain to.

Giving this third party the resources and access they need to identify issues within our party and recommend further changes to the NEC would help to begin a continuous process of improving both our structures and culture.

Labour should champion a more open culture, where people feel able to report incidents and don't have to worry about ruining their career or facing political repercussions if they do so. Problems should not be brushed under the carpet. It takes bravery to admit your faults. But, until these problems are faced head-on, they will not go away.

Being the party of equality does not mean Labour is immune to misogyny and sexual harassment, but it does mean it should lead the way on tackling it.

Now is the time for Labour to practice what it preaches and prove it is serious about women’s equality.

Bex Bailey was on Labour’s national executive committee from 2014 to 2016.