Why Twitter could be the worst kind of public sphere

By Dr Darren G. Lilleker, Associate Professor, The Media School.

There have been many positive predictions regarding the social media microblogging tool Twitter. Clay Shirky has long been an exponent of the idea that such social forms of communication will reinvigorate public debate, expanding participation in an informed and influential public sphere. Similarly, Robert Cox argues such tools allow marginalized voices and perspectives to have a public outlet.

Yet a darker side to Twitter is emerging that suggests that use of the tool can be both ill-informed, with no intention of stimulating debate and in some high profile cases for deeply disturbing forms of discourse.

While some used Twitter hashtags around the party conferences to make political comments on the promises made by the respective party leaders, reading through the #labconf feed during Ed Miliband’s speech, many seemed to be only interested in contributing the line ‘Shut up beaker’.

A comment which likened Miliband to a character from the Muppets and which targeted his own Twitter account to make it visible not only to other Twitter users but the Miliband as well. Similarly one poster repeatedly directed the message ‘F*** Off Cheesehead’ at David Cameron during his conference speech. While the politicians may well shrug this off, and the tweets themselves represent little more than some online form of graffiti, it does counter more positive predictions about the platform’s use.

More concerning is that a number of Twitter users, most notably Peter Nunn, jailed this week for 18 weeks, think it is appropriate to go one step worse than calling political leaders cheeseheads or beaker, but threatening them with rape. For no greater crime than running a campaign to have Jane Austen on the back of a UK bank note, MP Stella Creasy and feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez were subjected to some of the most vile threats imaginable. The BBC refused to quote them so Criado-Perez published them on her blog instead.

Criado-Perez levels criticism at Twitter, arguing the tool is optimized for trolling. But is it practical for Twitter to self-censor? The sheer number of tweets per minute means that any form of censorship would have to be automatic. So how does a computer differentiate between the threat of rape and, a comment on rape, or revelations about rape in conflicts? Sadly it probably couldn’t. If a dictionary were to be created of words that need to be assessed independently prior to posting, there would no longer be any immediacy.

Perhaps then the only solution for Twitter is to ensure all users are identifiable, and so liable to prosecution, rather than using anonymous names and single usage email addresses when setting up their account.

There remains a punitive alternative. Tough sentences for anyone found guilty of threatening behavior, so treating this form of abuse in the same way as face-to-face threats. But perhaps also there is an educational alternative.

What makes an otherwise respectable father like Peter Nunn feel it is appropriate to threaten to rape MPs if they disagree? What makes anyone feel they can say things on social media they would be too afraid or embarrassed to say face-to-face. Perhaps there needs to be a final button asking, ‘Are you sure you want to say this publicly?’. Or perhaps more needs to be done to show how this sort of behavior is equivalent to offline behaviour. Posting on Twitter is not the same shouting at a television and drunk tweets are not only read by fellow drunks in the same way as a comment in the pub or bar might be. What seems to be required is self-awareness when using these tools in order for them to have any chance of meeting their potential in society.

While there are still those who would use Twitter without thought for themselves or others, there seems to be far weightier arguments for ignoring Twitter and the like. Perhaps avoiding them is the solution and treating it as the sort of pub you just never want to go into, the one where you are never sure if you will come out unscathed and with your sanity intact.

Reckless politics

By Dr Darren G. Lilleker, Associate Professor, The Media School.

If you are going to make a political statement, timing is everything.

As the UKIP Conference came to a close in Doncaster and the doors opened to the Conservatives in Birmingham, Mark Reckless a hitherto fairly obscure backbencher, chose the moment to defect.

Given his close ties to Douglas Carswell, the first and most prominent defector from the Conservatives, and allegiance to Eurosceptic MEP Daniel Hannan is decision is perhaps no surprise. Reckless has been a constant rebel, disobeying the Conservative whip on numerous occasions with, according to Brian Wheeler’s political epitaph to Reckless, no real cause.

For Reckless the move is likely to be a pyrrhic gesture. If re-elected in the inevitable by-election, he and Carswell (if re-elected) might be a thorn in the side to Conservatives. But they will struggle to be heard. The 2015 might return some UKIP MPs to Westminster but research suggests that voters focus on national issues, in particular the economy, at national contests whereas European or local elections they are more willing to vote on a single issue or split their ticket. Hence it is an uphill struggle for UKIP to make a serious impact in Westminster.

However the defection of Carswell and Reckless is not without significance.  While Boris Johnson in his inimitable style described defections as utterly nuts, it belays a concern that must resound around Conservative members who dream of a second term for Cameron. The burning question is how many traditional Conservative voters sympathise with the defectors, and how many increasingly see UKIP as the party they should support in order to at least force the issue of an in/out referendum on the UKs membership of the EU.

The benefits freeze may well solidify Labour’s vote, despite Ed Miliband forgetting the economy during his conference speech. Labour’s lead is a tenuous 2% (35 to the Conservatives’ 33, UKIP trail on 9%) but the most recent survey was on September 14th. Post conference is the key to understanding how the parties stand after they showcase their manifesto promises for the first time. This may be a win-lose situation for the Conservatives, and to be overshadowed for even a second by the thorny question of ‘Europe’ plays into their opponents’ hands.

The forthcoming by-elections in Rochester and Strood and Clacton will bring the Europe question again to the fore. They could expose deep divisions within Conservative ranks as their candidates struggle to articulate a clear defence against their former colleagues’ doubts regarding Cameron’s promise to hold a referendum. Thus for both the defectors and for their former party their moves may prove extremely ‘reckless’ (pun intended) and damaging.

With Nigel Farage’s ability to earn free media, with public opinion uncertain on the Europe question, and with a coalition split and a Conservative party wavering on when to hold a referendum and what the timing and criteria for this might be, there is a lot to play for over the next eight months. The election, and the future of the UK, hangs in the balance, and Mark Reckless may well have played a key role in undermining the chances of a Conservative second term.

Fishing for stories – Talk BU Q&A

The recent Sunday Mirror ‘fishing exercise’ scandal involving a fake Twitter account and former Cabinet Office Minister, Brooks Newmark, has raised questions around ethics in journalism in a post-Leveson world. Talk BU asked BU lecturer and former journalist, Andrew Bissell, what we can learn from the scandal, and what we should be teaching the journalists of the future about rights and wrongs.

First off, are the media within their rights to set up proactive operations in order to uncover private details/images/practices of celebrities?

Media rights are addressed by the law, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Editors’ Code of Practice. Nonetheless privacy is not a black and white issue; on the contrary, interpretation and opinion ensure the issue continually swirls in a persistent grey fog.

For example, any individual can require any UK court to consider their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights which came into UK law in 2000. But while Article 8 contains the right to respect for privacy and family life, Article 10 enshrines the right to freedom of expression and the right to receive and impart information.

Similarly, the Editors’ Code of Practice reinforces the right to privacy however there may be exceptions “where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest”. A public interest justification can also be offered if material acquired by “clandestine devices and subterfuge” is obtained or published.

However the proactive nature of the Sunday Mirror sting is particularly interesting with regard to public interest; that’s because the now defunct Press Complaints Commission consistently ruled that ‘fishing expeditions’ – the dangling of bait to see what happens – were unacceptable. For all its claims of public interest, the Sunday Mirror story could appear to exhibit many of the hallmarks of such an ‘expedition’.

Does the public have the right to know what MPs such as Brooks are up to away from the public eye? Was this really in the public interest?

Again, we return to the grey area of opinion and interpretation: is there a tipping point when an MP’s private conduct can be deemed to question his or her claims to honesty and integrity in public office?

The Sunday Mirror claims there was a “clear public interest” because Mr Newmark had a prominent role in seeking increased representation of women in Parliament. Others, of course, will simply maintain he’s the victim of a commercial drive to sell newspapers. Some legal experts have already declared the sting amounts to entrapment and maintain claims of public interest are weak.

In the light of the Leveson Enquiry, should the media think more carefully about the way they conduct undercover operations?

Publication of this story has certainly raised media eyebrows. I’m not surprised two newspapers reportedly turned it down considering the current media climate. There is still intense post-Leveson scrutiny of the press and Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), the new regulator, is just three weeks old. Ipso was already under pressure to demonstrate its independence; now many will want to see the size of its muscles too.

Meanwhile the Sunday Mirror is already in the firing line for seemingly using a Twitter picture of a model without her permission to illustrate their article. And all this comes less than a week after the Sunday Mirror’s parent company admitted that some of its journalists had hacked phones. The media already thinks very carefully about undercover work; this case – and the all-important reaction of Ipso – will offer further food for thought.

Will this be the test case for the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso)? How do you think they might react?

This is certainly a test case. Ipso will take its time and could well employ the kind of proactive investigation its predecessor, the PCC, did not. Ipso has 28 days to get the facts of the case together and then pass them on to a complaints committee. Will a breach of the Code be found? It’s a very close call.

How do we as a university explain to students where the lines are when it comes to doing what it takes to get a good story? What boundaries do we instill within them?

Tuition for journalism students at BU is guided by the ethical and professional standards enshrined in the Code of Practice. Courageous, incisive journalism frequently poses complex and difficult ethical dilemmas; however we do not want to instill a suffocating, risk-averse approach to investigatory work.

What is your opinion on the whole episode? And I know you don’t have a crystal ball – but do you think it will become a milestone in press regulation?

I think the heat is about to be turned up on the simmering post-Leveson regulation debate. All eyes are now on Ipso and its first high-profile decision seems destined to define its future position.

Alcohol labelling and the social norm

By Dr John McAlaney, Lecturer in Psychology and Chartered Psychologist.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Misuse recently proposed that the packaging and bottles of alcoholic beverages should include health warnings, in order to reduce the health-related and economic harms caused by alcohol misuse in the UK. Such an approach has of course been used for many years across the world for the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products. The rationale behind this is that educating individuals on the risks of certain behaviours will enable them to make more informed decisions. Whilst this may be beneficial in some situations the long-term efficacy of alcohol education has been questioned, with an increasing movement away from using ‘health terrorism’ techniques which use negative and extreme imagery to dissuade people from misusing alcohol.

When considering how to address the issues associated with alcohol use it is important to take into account social psychological factors. Drinking alcohol is for many people done in a social situation. It is actively encouraged in many situations such as on nights out or at parties. Indeed it could be argued that drinking alcohol in some settings is seen to be the default option, and that anyone who chooses not to do so must often give a solid justification as to why they are not drinking, such as being a designated driver or for religious reasons. In addition there are a myriad of cultural factors associated with alcohol use. For example heavy drinking in young adults in the UK, and particularly amongst students, can be seen as a natural part of the transition into adulthood.

At the same time excessive alcohol use is condemned. The media often focuses on binge drinking and the harm that this can cause to individuals and societies. TV programmes feature footage of drunken behaviour in city centres on the weekend and highlight the burden that this can place on the police and A&E departments. However, characterising what ‘excessive’ alcohol use is can be problematic. Definitions vary internationally, and even within the UK. Many definitions do not take into account factors such as the period of time over which the alcohol is consumed, or the metabolism and body weight of the individual. Overall, alcohol holds a unique and contradictory status in the UK in being socially approved yet in many ways publically condemned.

Just how accurate are we in our perceptions of the alcohol use of others? Research would suggest that we tend to overestimate how much other people drink and how acceptable they think excessive alcohol use is. This effect appears to be especially pronounced in young adults. There are a number of possible reasons why we might tend to hold these misperceptions. Psychological processes such as memory and attention biases mean that we are more likely to notice and remember the one person in a bar who is drunk and loud than the many that are sober and quieter. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter also allow for the rapid dissemination of stories and pictures relating to alcohol consumption, which might further add to our perception that people around us drink alcohol more frequently and heavily than is actually the case. Even campaigns which aim to reduce alcohol consumption might inadvertently contribute to misperceptions. These campaigns often involve imagery of the target population drinking alcohol, which could suggest that this behaviour is a norm.

This work has led to the development of a new form of intervention and prevention, known as the social norms approach. This technique operates on a simple premise – if people tend to overestimate how heavily their peers drink alcohol then challenging these misperceptions should reduce the social pressure on the individual to drink heavily themselves. This, in turn, means their own consumption should decrease. This can be done in a variety of ways such as mass media campaigns or personalised online feedback. This approach is increasingly popular in Europe (see www.europeansocialnormsinstitute.wordpress.com for further information) and in contrast to more traditional approaches does not utilise negative imagery or moralistic messages on how people ‘should’ behave. In the words of former Minister for Scottish Parliament, Dr Bill Wilson,

“I am convinced that it is a relatively simple and cost-effective means of achieving behavioural change. Most importantly, it is positive rather than negative. It does not condemn, preach or use scare tactics, and it works!”

Alcohol labelling could be used to support this approach. Environmental cues can help determine norms, so as in the case of tobacco including health warnings on packaging may help create a norm that excessive alcohol use is not something that is desirable. However, caution must be taken to ensure that the health warnings used do not promote the message that the majority of people are using alcohol irresponsibly on a frequent basis. It is worth noting that based on national surveys and government definitions the majority of even the heaviest drinking group in the UK, namely young men, do not regularly binge drink.

Alcohol labelling and health warnings may be useful in enabling people to make more informed decisions about alcohol, but this must be done in a way that reflects the context of alcohol use in the UK. In short, we must cut through the hype and misconceptions around alcohol use if long-term culture change is to be achieved.

Post WWI – The rise and fall of international law

By Dr Melanie Klinkner, Senior Lecturer in Law.

World War I, though centred in Europe, was a global war initially involving the Allies on the one side, and the Central Powers on the other, but other countries were drawn into the conflict, turning it into the largest war in history. A staggering 9 million combatants were killed and this large cost of life galvanised many legal and political minds to try and avoid such future bloodshed by working towards peace and stability.

The Treaty of Versailles is perhaps best known for the demands placed on Germany to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions, and pay reparations to certain countries, but the Treaty has also great significance for international law. The League of Nations was established, as outlined in the Versailles Treaty of 1919, to steer away from the traditional power-distribution through injecting some more democratic and open elements. Its main goal was to maintain world peace and the idea goes back to 1795 and Immanuel Kant’s ‘Perpetual Peace: A philosophical sketch’. Kant’s notion of a peaceful world community did not lie in the creation of a global government, also rejected by the League of Nations, but in the hope that States would be free, respecting their citizens and welcoming foreign visitors as fellow rational beings.

One requirement in the Covenant of the League was that States, before resorting to war, had to exhaust judicial or political dispute settlement processes. In a further attempt to promote peace, the 1928 Pact of Paris, State parties forswore the resort to peace as means of national politics – though this initiative was hardly successful as ultimately evidenced by the Second World War. It is ironic that the 1919 Peace Treaty designed to end all wars led to a war which is unique so far in terms of non-combatant deaths – World War Two.

Noteworthy for international criminal law, the Treaty of Versailles also wanted the question examined whether war crimes trials for the defeated German Elite, including the Kaiser, were an option. The Commission on the Responsibilities of the Authors of War were divided on the issue. The majority recommended inter alia the establishment of a tribunal to prosecute suspected war criminals including the prosecution of defeated heads of state. Though an international Tribunal was not established, some German individuals accused of war crimes were tried in 1921 by the German authorities in the Leipzig War Crimes Trials.

But the inter-war period was fruitful in other ways through international legal innovations such as the creation of a World Court in 1922, optimistically called the Permanent Court of Justice. Whilst the Court did not have compulsory jurisdiction over all disputes, through deciding cases, a substantial body of international jurisprudence emerged. One such example considered to be an important foundation of international law is the Lotus Principle suggesting that States may act in any way they wish so long as they do not contravene an explicit prohibition.

Ambitious efforts were also made to codify international law. The prime example is the 1933 Montevideo Convention setting out the definition, rights and duties of statehood. Article 1 is best-known as it spells out the four criteria for statehood which remain relevant to this day.

The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.

Clearly some of the creations from this inter-war period had a short life, though many of the ideas and concepts have survived or been re-incarnated in the aftermath of the WWII. In fact, international lawyers became ‘heroic crusaders’ post 1945, building a new world; The United Nations replaced the League of Nations, the International Court of Justice the Permanent Court of Justice, and German and Japanese leaders faced trials for crimes under international law in Nuremberg and Tokyo.

No doubt, international law failed in avoiding carnage and maintaining world peace demonstrating its key weakness – the implementation of its norms is linked to political will.

Why politics needs arts & crafts

By Dr Anna Feigenbaum, lecturer in Media & Politics and contributor to the ‘Disobedient Objects’ exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Inflatable cobblestones, book blocs, musical pot lids. This week these objects joined the Victoria & Albert Museum’s collection, taking their place in design history alongside Grecian pottery and fashion couture. Curated by Gavin Grindon and Catherine Flood, the V&A’s Disobedient Objects show serves as much as an intervention than as an exhibition. Its 99 objects from social movements around the world ask us to rethink what counts both as art and as politics.

From brightly coloured, hand-woven tapestries to a rice sacks with head and armhole cut-outs, the show’s disobedient objects range from refashioned rubbish to intricate craftwork. While everyday items like tea cups or water bottles may not be inherently ‘disobedient’, repurposed here as objects of solidarity and makeshift tear gas masks, they take up status as ‘disobedient.’

concrete lock-on at protest

Concrete lock-on’s in action (actionawe.org)

Other objects showcased in the exhibition were intentionally designed for disobedience. The shields adorned with images of climate refugees used to transport pop-up tents at Climate Camp in 2007 are an excellent example of how spectacular art created spectacular media images, and swayed public opinion. Similarly, the ‘dragon’ concrete lock-ons made infamous in the anti-roads actions of the 1990’s show how protest sites often become innovative centres of disobedient design.

There is as much variety in these objects as there is in the people who made them. Artistic credits for the show include professional architectures, sculptors trained in world-leading art schools, gardeners, electricians, prisoners, students and anonymous collective assemblies of all kinds of people. These objects are neither art of the institution, nor art simply made outside of the institution. Rather, they are blends of both, the products of imagination as it travels between cultures and countries.


A Cacerolazo – protesting by with noise. (Ande Wanderer, argentinaindependent.com)

Just as our conception of art is disrupted by this exhibition of disobedient design, so too are our ideas of politics. Normally, when we think about what makes up politics, talking comes to mind. Politics is debates and speeches. It is dealing with campaign donations and soliciting support at gala dinners. It is the fighting, the demanding, and, all too often, the lying of our political leaders.

But these disobedient objects open up a different kind of politics. They give way to a politics of the senses. They showcase campaigners’ sensibility of political norms that enables them to anticipate and out-design their opponents. This politics can manifest as sound; the sing-song banging in unison of cacerolazo pan lids. Other times it is found in acts of collective sleeping – a politics shared through open-source designs for winterising protest camp tents. Often this different kind of politics is expressed in signs, flavoured with humour and pop culture savvy, as in the hanging hand-painted cardboard: ‘I wish my boyfriend was as dirty as your policies’ that now adorns the V&A (and its gift shop rack of postcards).

Rinky Tink bicycle sound system at Heathrow demonstration (Fabian Frenzel)

Rinky Tink bicycle sound system at Heathrow demonstration (Fabian Frenzel)

These are just some of the crafted politics of everyday people that arise when voices go unheard. Marred by low voter turnout and growing distrust, traditional politics is desperate for creativity. It is begging for new ideas to get beyond its self-perpetuating bureaucracies and stale public school styles. But to carry on, politics needs innovation from below. It needs to learn to better craft possibilities and policies from the perspective of the people. As Disobedient Objects shows, real change can only come when the imagination challenges the institution—and wins.


Anna Feigenbaum is co-author of the book Protest Camps (Zed 2013) and a lecturer at Bournemouth University on the BA (Hons) Politics & Media  degree.  Her essay ‘The Disobedient Objects of Protest Camps’ can be found in the Disobedient Objects V&A exhibition catalogue. 

BU academic in Parliament to present research on women MPs in the media

A Bournemouth University (BU) academic was in Parliament to share her research findings on media coverage of women politicians.

Senior Lecturer in Politics Dr Heather Savigny spoke at the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sex Equality, presenting findings of research she co-authored into press coverage of female politicians over the last 20 years.

The research – hailed as “important” work by Mary Mcleod MP during the session – found that women politicians in 2012 were receiving less coverage in proportion to their relative numbers in Parliament than in 2002 and 1992.

It also demonstrated that Conservative and Labour women were receiving proportionally more negative coverage than their male counterparts by 2012, while female Liberal Democrats were generally ignored.

Dr Savigny and co-author Deirdre O’Neill from Leeds Trinity University recommended that a media monitoring group be set up – comprising politicians, media representatives and academics.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group session was organised by the Fawcett Society.

Chair of the Group Diane Abbott MP welcomed the research and other presentations during the session, and pointed out that party press offices needed to do more to promote female politicians – and a wider range of women  –  in the media.

Co-chair Bernard Jenkins MP called on his male colleagues to participate in this debate, rather than dismissing it as a “women’s” issue.

They agreed to meet to discuss taking the issue further forward.

Beyond the crisis of political engagement

By Dr Darren G. Lilleker, Associate Professor, The Media School.

There is a crisis of political engagement. Academics, journalists, political NGOs, even now celebrities tell us there is: with Russell Brand being given a stage to call for abstentionism from the democratic process to highlight the disconnections between government and the governed. The features of the crisis are low trust in politicians, parties and the governments they form; low levels of feeling informed; lower still levels of feeling connected to ‘politics’; and consequent low levels of interest and participation. These are not new, perhaps not wholly unhealthy, and also not particularly surprising.

To start on a positive note, we should not desire blind trust in politicians. Scepticism is healthy, even a degree of cynicism is healthy, blindly following and supporting politicians is dangerous. We also need a critical media, which can breed scepticism and cynicism by questioning the motives of politicians. The problem in many modern, post-industrial democracies is that the balance has tipped to almost complete mistrust, only around 20% of the EU population have any trust in politicians: to represent them, to act of the good of the nation, to follow ethical codes of behaviour. The question is why?

Politicians exist in the eye of a perfect storm. The media express few partisan affiliations and are readier to expose scandal than a positive story. The voters no longer hold strong affiliations to parties; hence they are no longer part of a local conversation with other members. Hence exposure to politics is mediated for the vast majority, who also rely on television news which few watch habitually and sporadic reading of newspapers. So of course there is low information and it is the scandals, the big news items, Plebgate, Expenses, to which most will get the most exposure.

But this is not the full explanation. Politicians now exist largely within what many describe as a bubble, Westminster for example. They largely moved away from community politics, offering sporadic surgeries only, public meetings are now undertaken via television which focus on the minority of top party leaders. Local politics is included by public service broadcasters, but is not the staple diet of many household’s Sunday viewing. The divorce of the representative and the community has been gradual, pushed by party centralisation, the erosion of local activists, clubs, the practice of parachuting in candidates, the pressures of Westminster duties etc.

Some politicians have, however, built new connections. Many politicians (MPs and MEPs) have begun to colonise Facebook and Twitter. Some hold online surgeries. Some request video footage from smartphones to highlight issues. Some seek the views of their constituents. Some inform about their activities at Westminster and locally. Some seek help with local campaigns. The best, and this is an unashamedly normative statement, do all of those.

What is the impact? Party politics, or at least perceptions of leaders, dominate voter choices. But, even when the tide turns towards one party, research shows a local MP can earn 5-12% of the vote based on their service. They can also enhance the image of their party, earn trust, earn interest, and mobilise citizens who feel disenfranchised. And they themselves feed off their constituents, the more they do the more constituents connect with them and so the more they connect with the community they represent.

The crisis of engagement is often seen to begin and end with voting. It is a crisis when the majority do not vote, and a protest against the system to abstain. But largely all this leads to is further disenfranchisement: why would any organisation seeking votes need the thoughts of those who do not participate.

We need a more interactive politics. Where demands of citizens are heard, where representatives interact with a broad swathe of citizens and where there is greater citizen input into and understanding of political processes. Disengagement results from feelings of personal irrelevance, disconnection, insecurity and uncertainty. Politicians need to reduce these feelings and make politics relevant, connected to communities so reducing insecurity in society and uncertainty over political processes and their outcomes. But citizens need to also push for a more active representative, withdrawing is not the answer.


Dr Lilleker has conducted research into a number of aspects of engagement and disengagement, in particular around the communication and campaigning activities of parties and candidates in the UK. The impacts of political communication is a key interest, and he has explored this using theories of psychology in his latest work Political Communication and Cognition (Palgrave, 2014). 

Dr Heather Savigny featured in New Statesman on women in politics and media

Dr Heather Savigny, Senior Lecturer in Politics at BU and Deirdre O’Neill, Lecturer in Journalism at Trinity College Leeds, have written for New Statesman website about their research into the representation of female politicians in the media.

“It’s 2014 – yet media and politics is still a man’s game” outlines the results of an archival study of newspaper coverage of female MPs since 1992. The study was originally published in Journalism Education and funded with the help of a grant from the Association of Journalism Education.

Using their research, Savigny and O’Neill concluded that the way women in politics are represented in the media is getting worse, writing,

“Female politicians were more likely to be reported negatively – for example, by 2012 we found that although all Conservative politicians received negative coverage, Conservative women MPs received negative coverage that was double that of their male counterparts. Labour women, meanwhile, were receiving coverage that was four times more likely than Labour men to be negative.”

They went on to state that it wasn’t just the negative bias of the coverage but also a case of numbers of female MPs gaining press coverage and the treatment of them differs too, the media preferring to focus on physical appearances rather than policies. Savigny and O’Neill finished by calling for a more mature approach to reportage when it comes to women in politics.

You can read the full article on New Statesman.



European election debate held at BU


Prospective MEP candidates from seven political parties gathered to debate key topics in preparation for the upcoming European elections.

The hustings, hosted at Bournemouth University, was organised by students from BU’s Media School, who also filmed proceedings as a part of their coverage of the European elections.

Candidates were faced with pre-prepared questions, followed by audience responses to their comments during the Question Time-style debate, chaired by BU academic Dr Dan Jackson. At times the debate became heated as candidates from opposing sides positioned themselves with polarised thoughts on important political topics.

Topics discussed by the candidates included Britain’s future in Europe, Britain and Europe’s response to the situation in the Crimea and the immigration issues facing the UK.

Audience participation was excellent, with debate encouraged amongst the crowd; students, staff members and members of the public engaged in the debate with comments, and applause was offered for particularly strong points from the prospective MEPs.

Jay Risbridger, a prospective MEP candidate for the Liberal Democrat party, said after the event, “Its important [to have events such as this at universities] as students will become the future voters who will participate in the EU. I think this generation, more than any other, their jobs and future prosperity will depend on what goes on in the EU rather than what goes on in the UK government.”

Jay also offered a message to students who will be voting in next week’s European elections, saying, “Think about what you are going to be doing and where you are going to be working in the future and be mindful that you may not be working in the UK in the future but in the EU!”

Students from a number of Media School courses came together to deliver the debate. Television production student Edward Lawrence organised the event and said, “I’m a big fan of these political debate shows, which give audiences a platform to ask the questions that matter with politicians they are going to be voting for. I am proud that we have provided that platform and am proud of the students that covered the event, I think they are a credit to Bournemouth University.”

Douglas Tham, a student studying Politics and Media at BU, also helped to run the event on the night and added, “It really shows that students do care about politics and it’s great that we have the European elections coming up next week and we have students here asking questions, talking about it and learning about it.”

Other candidates to take part in the debate included current Conservative MEP Ashley Fox, UKIP prospective MEP Dr Julia Reid, Green Party Prospective MEP Mark Chivers, Labour Prospective MEP Clare Moody, An Independence from Europe Party Prospective MEP David Smith and English Democrats Prospective MEP Amanda Hopwood.