Wednesday, 4 April 2012

News at Six: Are the Northerners Right?

Four weeks ago I started my epic quest to find new ways to procrastinate discover whether those Northerners are right and that the BBC News has a massive London bias.

To this end I started logging the weekday BBC News at Six(1) and determining how each region fared. I used the three nations + the official regions to avoid definition problems but I have occasionally combined the North East, the North West and Yorkshire & Humberside for an aggregate Northern result. Any who objects to this methodology should feel to do their own fucking survey.

I have two caveats, Scotland (and to a lesser extent Northern Ireland) technically aren't covered by National stories that involve devolved powers but I've retained national for simplicity sake. Given that Scottish MPs can vote on these issues and that 17% of the current cabinet are Scottish it doesn't seem that outlandish. The other, more important caveat, is that I'm doing this entirely for my own satisfaction and to test whether my prejudices are right or not. These results do not reach any kind of sociological or social-policy standard.

The totals in the last four weeks are thus...

     Mins. %
 International       152.55 34%
 National       177.13 40%
 London         23.21 5%
 Midlands           8.64 2%
 Yorkshire         13.28 3%
 Wales           9.49 2%
 North East           3.68 1%
 North West           9.59 2%
 South East           7.93 2%
 East         16.74 4%
 Scotland         16.96 4%
 South West           7.09 2%
 Northern Ireland           2.02 0%
 Total      448.31

Stripping out the national and international news and aggregating the north we get the following.

         Mins              %         Pop%       Ratio
The North          26.55 22% 24%        0.92
London          23.21 20% 13%        1.51
Scotland          16.96 14% 9%        1.64
East          16.74 14% 9%        1.57
Wales            9.49 8% 5%        1.65
Midlands            8.64 7% 16%        0.46
South-East            7.93 7% 13%        0.50
South-West            7.09 6% 8%        0.73
Northern Ireland            2.02 2% 3%        0.57

As you can see the North actually gets the most coverage but.... and this is a big but - the North is by far the largest region with 24% of UK's population. If you rank the regions/nations by the ratio of news to population you get a very different result.

Mins % Pop% Ratio
Wales           9.49 8% 5%        1.65
Scotland         16.96 14% 9%        1.64
East         16.74 14% 9%        1.57
London         23.21 20% 13%        1.51
The North         26.55 22% 24%        0.92
South-West           7.09 6% 8%        0.73
Northern Ireland           2.02 2% 3%        0.57
South-East           7.93 7% 13%        0.50
Midlands           8.64 7% 16%        0.46

This shows that that the North is indeed apparently under represented, given the size of its population, However I did notice a wide fluctuation in coverage from day to day and week to week so I think it'll probably need at least six months of data to give a wide enough sample to satisfy me.

(1) Believe it or not I used to do this for a living.


MrBrown said...

One of the things it might also be showing is that a lot of events of national import happen in London, what with it being the capital and all, even outside of politics - so it might not just be BBC bias, but the configuration of the UK too.

Leslie said...

Your statistics are just awesome. I knew there was a reason I liked you! I've done my own share of data-mining, so I know how rewarding (if tedious) it can be. I had a friend who was a statistician who liked to say "you can lie with statistics, but not to a statistician."

Do you think the type of news reported should matter? That is, some regions may be in the news for their sports teams, others for business news, others for politics, or for crime. (For example my home state, Indiana, is always in the national news in March, for basketball season [cf "Hoosiers"], and May, for the Indianapolis 500. Otherwise you'd never know we exist.)

Ben Aaronovitch said...

I'd be interested to break it down by news story type but I think it might require more time and experience than I have at hand.