This blog will consider the usefulness of Content Analysis and Critical Discourse Analysis when examining The Sun’s coverage the day following the announcement of the 2010 General Election.
D-Dave – a day of destiny for Britain as Poll is called. (The Sun, April 7 2010)
The battle lines are drawn, and in the blue corner, punching for Cameron, sits the heavyweight Murdoch daily newspaper The Sun with a headline full of patriotic symbolism and emotional manipulation.
The Sun make no secret of their political convictions. They have launched a systematic campaign against the Labour Party and Gordon Brown in particular, since they openly switched allegiances back to their traditional and more comfortable Conservative leanings in September 2009.
And when using Content Analysis (“ordinarily limited to the manifest content of the communication and not normally done in direct terms of latent intentions which the content may express”, [Berelson 1952, cited in Richardson 2007]) to examine their election coverage on April 7, a number of interesting characteristics are highlighted.
For example, there are no direct quotes from Gordon Brown in comparison to 25 sentences from David Cameron. Brown is described as ‘tired’, ‘rusty’, while Cameron is ‘youthful’ and full of ‘enthusiasm’. This quick Content Analysis would appear to back Berelson’s argument that Content Analysis assumes inferences about the relationship between content and effect can validly be made and can therefore reveal the “purposes, motives and other characteristics of the communicators as they are (presumably) reflected; in the content; or to identify the presumable effects of the content upon the attention, attitudes or actions of readers and listeners” (Cited in Richardson 2007)
But many academics are critical of Content Analysis as a methodology. Billigs (1989: 206) claims “This sort of methodology can count words, but not interpret them. Under some circumstances mere counting can lead to misleading conclusions.” (Cited in Wilson, 1993.) For example, if we look at The Sun‘s piece, David Cameron is mentioned by name fifteen times and Gordon Brown eleven times. This would not appear a significantly different number, and could, without greater analysis, appear to show a balance.
But if you look at it more closely, Brown’s name often appears in direct quotes from Cameron who is refuting the Prime Minister’s record and election claims. Cameron is in fact the only politician afforded the opportunity to speak to The Sun’s audience directly. While straight Content Analysis does offer some immediate findings which point towards motivation, when considering The Sun it is impossible to separate the two, and thus Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) is a more appropriate research method.
Richardson defines CDA as “a theory and method of analysing the way that individuals and institutions use language,” (2007) while Van Dijk identifies that the most critical work on discourse is that of power, and more specifically the social power of groups or institutions.” Van Dijk asserts that groups have power if they are able to control the acts and minds on members of other groups.
The Sun has claimed to give victory to Conservative Governments over the Labour Party before. The now infamous Sun headline in the 1992 election urging the last person who left Britain if Labour won to “turn out the lights”, and the equally famous “It was the Sun Wot Won It”, the following day gave the paper – at least in the minds of their readership and Politicians – a position of power. Subsequent political leaders have spent time wooing editors to try to get them to back their party at Election time. David Cameron is no different. The content of the piece today shows that a journalist was allowed to personally shadow him on the first day of a General Election campaign and he found time to give them a sit down interview. To give one newspaper this kind of access demonstrates the importance placed upon its point of view.
To look at The Sun’s discourse is to examine it’s role in “the production and reproduction of … domination” (Richardson, 2007) The Sun – or rather its owner – aim to dominate its reader’s political opinions and the language and it’s intentions are inseparable from the outset. What CDA allows is for the two to be examined in parallel.
For example, the newspaper’s headline and opening paragraph both draw on the language of war, and significantly, place Cameron in the realm of World War Two heroism. The use of ‘D-Dave’ draws on the heroism of the Normandy landings, and the opening description of Cameron firing a metaphoric gun to launch his election campaign aims at continuing this analogy. Later in the piece Cameron gives the paper access to his “war room” on the banks of the River Thames. #
The Sun blurs news about the launch of the campaign – such as where the party leaders have been on the first day – with their editorial opinion, blended with a heady mix of emotive metaphors which create an image of a country in the midst of disaster along the lines of World War Two with Cameron as the only politician able to bring the country back from the brink. To vote Labour at such at time is painted as not only poor judgement in light of the overwhelming evidence they provide for Brown being incapable of the job, but also unpatriotic.
Whether they pull it off is a different matter. The Sun may have had the clout to change an election in pre-digital 1992, but today people get their news from a wide variety of out lets. And if the comments below are anything to go by, a number of their readers see exactly what they are trying to do. Perhaps society has become a bit to media savvy for The Sun. Could be an interesting research topic!