One might expect that those newspapers most criticised in the Leveson Inquiry’s Report for wrongdoings and illegal behaviour would try to gloss over the anguish of the victims of this behaviour and focus on the defence of their freedom. Although, as has been pointed out, they all have “skin in the game”, this seems not entirely to have coloured their coverage. Careful coding of news stories on Leveson in the internal pages of national newspapers showed that they were relatively balanced in terms of how they framed the story, with some exceptions.
On 30 November there were two big stories in the day’s newspapers – the Leveson Report and the release of SAS sniper Danny Nightingale. As reported in the earlier post on front pages, some papers lead with Leveson while others such as The Daily Mail and the The Daily Star lead with the SAS story. While this in itself is somewhat telling, in order to understand more about how the press covered this story in which its own behaviour and future were so central, we also examined the coverage of the story inside all the national dailies.
There was a marked difference in the extent of coverage, some of which can be attributed to format and type of newspaper, but perhaps not all. The Guardian and The Independent both have more than 16 pages devoted to the story and The Independent included a special selection with verbatim excerpts from the Report’s executive summary as read out during the press conference. However both The Times and The Daily Mail also gave the story proportionally a lot of coverage with nine and 13 pages respectively. The other papers had 3-4 page spreads while The Daily Star only gave it most of one page. It is also worth pointing out that The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Sun, The Daily Mirror and The Daily Mail all reported on Leveson’s specific criticism of their own work.
The table above shows the degree to which each frame was evident in the coverage on a scale from 0-3. Surprisingly The Daily Telegraph, which was so strong on the freedom of the press frame on its front page, turned evenly to both the victims and politico-media complex in its inside coverage. The Guardian showed strong evidence of all three frames, which may have been partly because of the sheer extent of space devoted to the story. However, The Independent, which had a similar amount of coverage, did not show such balance. The Independent and The Times came out stronger on the victims frame in their inside pages than they had on their front pages where the Independent hinted at media power over politics and The Times overtly and solely highlighted the battle for a free press.
In the tabloids the freedom of the press frame dominated inside coverage, but there was use of the victims frame as well. The Daily Mail, The Daily Express and The Daily Mirror also seemed to use the politico-media complex frame. This means that while they did obviously place the story in the context a battle for their own freedom, there was acknowledgement of the struggle of the victims and to some extent the issues of media power in relation to politics. The Sun, in which the front page had exclusively put the story in terms of the battle for press freedom continued to avoid the media power angle. News International’s other paper, The Times, did give weight to both the victims need for redress and the issues of media power and connections to political elites.
One of the ways the framing of the story comes across is through the photos chosen. In the case of The Sun it was the use of victims’ photos, for instance, more so than the content of its stories that made the redress for victims frame evident. Among the 11 photos used politicians and Leveson himself constituted more than half, but non-celebrity victims were in four photos. The distinction between celebrity and non-celebrity victims is important, considering the history of the story – the public feel more sympathy for Milly Dowler’s parents than for Hugh Grant or Steve Coogan. The Times, for instance, had a montage of seven celebrity photos in the centre of its main two page spread, but only a small one of Milly Dowler in an upper corner. In both The Daily Mail and The Telegraph at least 50% of the photos were of victims of phone hacking or misbehaviour by the press. However while the Mail had an even split between celebrities and ordinary people, The Telegraph had more than twice as many celebrities.
These two papers whose, photos emphasized the victims referred to in the Leveson report over other players, nevertheless appear to give differing impressions of who was hurt by press behaviour. The Independent and The Guardian displayed the most balanced and diverse representation of the various players in the story, but this may also partly attributed to the fact that they had to fill many pages.
Readers who read further into the newspapers on the day after Leveson in general saw a more balanced and complex version of the story than that presented on the front pages. Even those papers one might have expected to be defensive or push the unfavourable aspects of the story under the rug did not do so. This may be an indication of their reading of public opinion on their behaviour and sympathy for the victims, nevertheless, inside the papers the battle for press freedoms was almost equally matched with the struggle of the victims in the framing of the story.
This is the third in a series of posts looking at the way the press have covered the Leveson Report.
This research was conducted with Media Policy Project Interns: Alexandra Kulikova, Helene De Chalambert, Jacopo Genovese; Nick Davies, Paula Brito, and Ying Huang. Thanks also to Ellen Helsper.