Press coverage of social issues : an international comparative analysis

  • Joelle Vandermensbrugghe

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis offers an analysis of the reporting on unemployment, social welfare and the environment in the quality press in Australia, Belgium, France and the United Kingdom. The findings of this research are based on news about these issues provided in a sample of two constructed weeks in 1998. The quality papers chosen for analysis are: The Age and The Australian (Australia), De Standaard and Le Soir (Belgium), Le Figaro and Le Monde (France), The Guardian and The Times (England). This thesis starts by examining the history and the principles governing the press in the countries analysed, underlining the differences between the Anglo-Saxon and the Continental press, mainly in terms of relations between the press and the State. It questions the importance attributed to freedom of expression in a climate where the concept is still analysed in terms of freedom from government intervention, while the role played by business is generally accepted as unavoidable. This research found that quality newspapers overall present social issues as primarily economic issues, often neglecting their more social aspects. The world promoted is one which is best run by business, while the role of governments as possible managers of the environment and unemployment, and to some extent social welfare, is largely dismissed. The press analysed does this with varying degrees, depending on general attitudes held within countries and on the 'culture' of each newspaper. This research clearly shows the existence of particular newspaper 'cultures'. Each newspaper has its own priorities and news is generally framed according to those priorities. Generally speaking, the emphasis placed by journalists on certain aspects of news is in line with the 'culture' of the newspaper they are working for. The choice of sources of information used to provide news also fits within existing newspapers' 'cultures'. The dominant economic emphasis put on information is systematically endorsed by Le Figaro, The Australian, The Times and De Standaard. Only Le Monde and The Guardian, Le Soir and The Age at times offer alternative views, while endorsing the dominant economic frame. Le Monde and The Guardian, which are also the only two newspapers of the sample that are not part of a big media consortium, regularly stress the social aspect of unemployment and social welfare. These are also the only two newspapers which consider the environment as a long-term quality of life issue, reflecting that it is more than just an economic issue. Le Soir and The Age, which are the two newspapers in our sample with a more local emphasis, also defend the local environment against larger economic interests, and explore local social problems related to unemployment and poverty. In the case of The Age, this fits into a frame very common in the Australian press: that of an uncaring government. Australian papers are very critical and even cynical towards government and politicians. This cynicism is not found in the European papers. The findings of this research are based upon an analysis of the sources of information used by the newspapers, as well as upon an analysis of the frames adopted. This research has put a particular emphasis on sources of information, seen here as the promoters of news frames. General professional practices, together with the 'cultures' held by particular newspapers, account for the lack of representation of private citizens and lobby groups challenging economic interests. In turn their lack of representation can be held responsible for the small amount of information conflicting with dominant framing and dominant themes provided in the news.
    Date of Award2001
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorPeter Putnis (Supervisor) & John Penhallurick (Supervisor)

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