The ways in which the media portray groups has been in the news again recently, following the suspension by All3Media of Brian True-May, the producer of Midsomer Murders on ITV, for remarks he made in a Radio Times interview.
True-May referred to the programme series, which has an all-white cast, as ‘the last bastion of Englishness’ and argued that part of its appeal was the absence of ethnic minorities from the story-lines. He added that he wanted to keep it that way.
True-May’s suspension created a backlash about political correctness in some sections of the media. He was subsequently reinstated following an apology but is apparently stepping down from the programme at the end of its current run.
The Sun took the opportunity presented by the row to commission YouGov to undertake an online poll of 2,666 Britons aged 18 and over to ask, more generally, whether different groups were normally fairly or unfairly portrayed in the media. Fieldwork took place on 15 and 16 March, and the data tables are available at:
Christians and Muslims were two of the groups on the list of seventeen, although (strangely) ethnic minorities were not a separate category.
39% of adults said that Christians were portrayed fairly, 12% unfairly positively, 27% unfairly negatively, with 22% unsure. Those thinking them depicted unfairly negatively were disproportionately found among Conservative voters (37%) and the over-60s (35%). The 18-24s had the highest proportion considering them to be portrayed unfairly positively (18%).
30% of respondents believed that Muslims were portrayed fairly in the media, 15% unfairly positively, 34% unfairly negatively, with 20% uncertain. Liberal Democrats (50%), Scots (49%) and the 18-24s (45%) were most likely to say that Muslims received unfairly negative coverage.
YouGov calculated a net score for each group, by subtracting the unfairly negative figure from the unfairly positive. On this basis, Christians and Muslims were not far apart, -15 and -19 respectively.
Interestingly, only three of the seventeen groups scraped in with positive scores: businessmen (+6), bankers (+2), and Conservative supporters (0).
Minus scores which were better than for both Christians and Muslims were recorded by Labour supporters (-3), middle class people (-3), people from the USA (-5), women (-5), gays/lesbians/bisexuals (-5), disabled people (-13), and transsexuals (-14).
Immigrants (-17) fared worse than Christians but better than Muslims. Gypsies and travellers scored the same as Muslims. Three groups were lower than Christians and Muslims: the elderly (-21), working class people (-23), and the young (-36).
An alternative ranking of the groups according to the number thinking they were fairly portrayed in the media had a high of 53% for women and a low of 26% for transsexuals. Christians came ninth equal and Muslims fourteenth on this ordering.
If these results are taken as some kind of proxy measure of religious discrimination, then clearly there is some, albeit age prejudice on the part of the media is seen to be an even more serious problem.
There have been a fair number of content-based analyses of religion in the media over recent years. Some have been generic, such as Kim Knott’s longitudinal study of newspaper and television representations. Others have focused particularly on Muslims in the media, including the work of Elizabeth Poole and John Richardson.