When and how does press coverage maintain independence from governments’ preferred language? Leading scholarship argues that elites shape media content, especially in foreign affairs settings where journalists rely on official sources. But do media push back in domestic policy contexts? Focusing on immigration in Britain, we find press coverage exhibits signs of autonomy that rely on the state’s administrative branches. Our evidence comes from automated linguistic analysis of 190,000 items of migration coverage in nineteen national British newspapers from 2006 to 2015, and press releases published by the U.K. Home Office between 2010 and 2015. We show that the press increasingly portrayed immigration in terms of its scale. Then, by comparing the dynamics of a key government policy—lowering “net migration”—in press and Home Office rhetoric, we illustrate the limits of the government to insert its desired language into the press. Finally, we argue routine press interactions with the nonpolitical Office for National Statistics enabled coverage that diverged from politicians’ preferred lines. Our study contributes to press-state theory by providing evidence of media semi-autonomy in a domestic policy arena, and highlighting the often-overlooked role of routine, bureaucratic procedure in supporting that autonomy.
Allen, W. L. and Blinder, S. (2018) Media Independence through Routine Press-State Relations: Immigration and Government Statistics in the British Press, The International Journal of Press/Politics, 23(2): 202-226. DOI: 10.1177/1940161218771897 [OPEN ACCESS]