Monday 1 October 2012

The BBC 6 O'Clock Regional Bias Report

A perennial complaint by non-Londoners is that the BBC News was relentless 'metrocentric' and gave much greater time to events that happened within the capital.

As a Londoner I've always felt that this claim was utter bollocks but sometimes it's important to check out your assumptions.

I decided to track the weekday News at 6 broadcast on BBC 1 and break down it's coverage by nation and English region. The first run was interesting but exposed flaws in my methodology so I decided to restart the project in September. Each weekday I log the news and break it down into; International, National, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and then the English Regions. Where a story has two or three different foci I divided up the time equally.

I then strip out the National and the International stories (about 65% of all the news stories) and calculate my percentages based on the stories that have a regional foci.

Please note: that this is done entirely to satisfy myself and my methodology would not stand much scrutiny from a social scientist. However I believe results should be interesting.

1 Month In

      Pop        %  Tot-Mins
North West 7.052 11%        42.66
South-East 8.635 14%        24.07
Yorkshire + 5.284 8%        19.76
London 8.174 13%        18.31
Wales 3.064 5%        14.55
Scotland 5.254 8%        13.59
Northern Ireland 1.811 3%          7.37
North East 2.597 4%          6.55
South-West 5.289 8%          5.60
East 5.847 9%          3.43
East Midlands 4.533 7%          1.97
West Midlands 5.602 9%          0.92

Pop: population in millions.
%: percentage of UK population.
Tot-mins: coverage in minutes so far.

A fairer way of looking at this data is to see how many minutes of coverage there is per million population.

Pop Min/Mpop
North West 7.052          6.05
Wales 3.064          4.75
Northern Ireland 1.811          4.07
Yorkshire + 5.284          3.74
South-East 8.635          2.79
Scotland 5.254          2.59
North East 2.597          2.52
London 8.174          2.24
South-West 5.289          1.06
East 5.847          0.59
East Midlands 4.533          0.43
West Midlands 5.602          0.16

Now in the first instance this looks like my position is totally vindicated, far from dominating the news London is strictly mid-list, the North-West is dominant and the Midlands sadly neglected but...

My experience from my last run at this is that there be a large variation from week to week and month to month. The North-West got a lot of coverage due to the shooting of two police at the start of the month, Northern Ireland because of the rioting in Belfast, Wales and Yorkshire+ because of the floods. I believe that I will need at least six months worth of data before I can be confident of the results.

UPDATE 1/10./2012

Pop km2 m/kkm2
London 8.174        1,572 11.65
North West 7.052      23,837 1.79
Yorkshire + 5.284      15,420 1.28
South-East 8.635      19,096 1.26
North East 2.597 8,592 0.76
Wales 3.064 20,779 0.70
Northern Ireland 1.811 13,843 0.53
South-West 5.289      23,837 0.23
East 5.847      19,120 0.18
Scotland 5.254 78,387 0.17
East Midlands 4.533      15,627 0.13
West Midlands 5.602      12,998 0.07

Somebody suggested I rank by minutes per 1,000 square km. London of course dominates but then it is the only fully urban English region. Interestingly the North West continues to outperform the rest and the Midlands are still at the bottom.


Eloise said...

I agree you need a longer sample set because there will be a lot of variation.

While I'm not arguing that minutes per million population is a pretty reasonable measure, what happens if you crunch by land area? That would help with the weather stories to some extent. You could possibly retag by 'people centred stories' and 'nature centred stories' - so murder is people centred, floods are nature centred - and then scale them that way.

Also, how do you record political news? Is a story about Nick Clegg Yorkshire or London? If was during their conference, was it Yorkshire, London or the North East?

Or, of course, you could make us, your loyal fans, happy and spend the time writing the next book or two or three :)

Ben Aaronovitch said...

I do political news by foci.

Thus Nick Clegg MP is ignored by UN over Syria is International.

Nick Clegg Fails to Gain Meaningful Constitutional Change - is National.

Nick Clegg beaten by angry constituents - is Yorkshire + (because of his Sheffield constituency).

Nick Clegg arrested for dunk and disorderly in St James Park 'People used to love me,' says Deputy PM - is a London story.

Eloise said...

Thanks for the clarification, and the update.

I was thinking about the psychology of it too. A slightly different measure that might work for the pyschology is to divide by the numbers of towns and cities in each region.

London, of course, does terribly on this, dividing by only 1. But, for example, I live in York. News about Leeds, Hull, Wakefield, etc. are (correctly) tagged by you as Yorkshire & Humber, but mentally they're tagged by me as 'somewhere else' and London is certainly the most commonly mentioned somewhere else. Ergo, psychologically it appears to be overmentioned.

Mark said...

"Nick Clegg arrested for dunk and disorderly in St James Park 'People used to love me,' says Deputy PM - is a London story."

Haha love it!

Interesting results.

As a North Westerner myself, and possessed with a huge degree of civic pride, my opinions may be biased but, we're a large region encompassing major cities like Liverpool and Manchester which inevitably feature in the news and sometimes, as this past month has regrettably proven, a degree of that is because of the news favourite medium - tragedy; both the Hillsborough findings and the tragic pointless deaths of WPC's Bone and Hughes.

The other major preoccupation of the news is of course the weather with several ridiculous 'ooh look, bad rain' reports taking up a vast amount of airtime. The NW as a region is often beset by poor weather and seems to be the go to region when discussing it at its worst.

As such I'm not surprised a great deal of coverage is NW heavy.

dylanwolf said...

Bugger all ever happens here.

Kevin from the West Midlands.

Gazzer said...

Hi Ben,

I think you'll find that the North West will continue to outperform the rest of the country as the BBC new centre is now in Salford, which happens to be in the North West.

In previous times there may have been a slight London bias, but, as you point out in your commentary, it is the largest urban area and Greater London would account for between 15 and 20% of the UK's population depending on where you drew the boundaries