Irish Independent’s framing of poll suggests ‘Brexitisation’ of #RepealThe8th debate

THE ISSUE

Many feel that one of the factors that contributed to both the Brexit and Trump victories  in 2016 was the mainstream media’s attempts to appear ‘neutral’ [for sales reasons every bit as much as ones involving ‘fairness’] which often led to over-compensating in their coverage of the perceived ‘losing side’ ahead of election day.

THE MEDIA

Article by Philip Ryan in Irish Independent on February 18, 2018

Poll shows strong support in favour of abortion referendum – but ’12 week’ proposal splits public

A total of 40pc said unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks was ‘about right’, while 8pc said it ‘did not go far enough’, a combined 48pc in favour.

However, 33pc said unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks ‘went too far’ and a further 19pc were undecided – a combined 52pc against or unsure.

THE COMMENT

The headline reads ’12-week proposal splits public’.  Actually, any poll result that isn’t 100% in favour of one side can be called ‘split’.  So what is Philip Ryan of the Indo trying to do here?

Well, let’s look at the numbers being presented, starting with the pollsters themselves.  The article calls it a ‘Kantar Millward Brown poll’ which suggests a degree of, pardon the pun, ‘independence’ about the source, though if you actually go to the firm’s website you’ll see that pretty much all of their polls are done for the Indo.

But here is where I want to be absolutely clear…I am not suggesting that the Irish Independent is somehow secretly working on behalf of one side of the abortion debate.  This is something different, yet it is potentially just as harmful to the #RepealThe8th movement.

The article begins by pointing out that as many as 63% of respondents are in favour of Eighth Amendment Repeal.   It then adds that ‘A total of 24pc are opposed and 13pc do not know or offer no opinion.’  That shows a clear separation between the different viewpoints, in favour, against and no opinion…three distinct camps.

But the reporting starts to get a little, shall we say, ‘murky’ when we get to the part about the proposed ’12 week’ provision.  Remember…this post is not meant to debate that issue itself, rather the Indo’s reporting of a poll on it.

As you can see from our highlighted quote above, when it comes to these particular figures, the author has chosen to throw the ‘undecided’ percentage in with those who feel that 12 weeks is ‘too far’.  Why is that?  Surely the fact that they haven’t stated an opinion means the number should be kept separate, just as it was with the overall figures?

The answer is simple, at least in my opinion.

It’s not so much that the Indo wants you to vote a particular way in the referendum…it just wants to be able to write a headline that attracts attention from both sides.  So by ‘cooking the numbers’ to suggest there’s a category where the ‘No’ camp is actually winning, they are effectively ‘throwing them a bone’.

Many use the term ‘clickbait’ for such manipulation in the framing of a headline, but I’m not wild about that as it suggests that it only happens online.  I’d rather call it ‘lookbait’ as not only has it always featured in the print media [mostly tabloids though not exclusively], but also it is essentially uses the same principle employed by advertisers.  That scantily-clad woman holding the beer on the billboard isn’t there because if you buy the product you’ll get to meet her, yet they certainly don’t mind you thinking you will, even if it’s for a split second.

But to return to the #RepealThe8th movement, it’s very important that they remain mindful of this type of skewed media coverage and highlight it whenever they can, otherwise that 63-24 gap could get a lot closer between now and the referendum itself.  JLP

#IANWAE

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