Technical ReportPDF Available

The Increasing Prominence of Prejudice and Social Justice Rhetoric in UK News Media

Authors:

Abstract

• Recent years have seen considerable debate about the rise of political polarisation in British society. Specifically, over the last decade, various studies have suggested that the UK is now rapidly following the United States into a more polarised politics in which intensifying ‘culture wars’ over issues such as racism, identity, diversity, history, the legacy of history, and ‘social justice’ or so-called ‘woke’ politics are becoming far more prominent. • While this debate typically focuses on the role of party politics, much less attention has focused on the relationship between news media and rising polarisation. Building on recent pioneering research which has tracked a sharp increase in the overall prominence of prejudice and social justice rhetoric in US and Spanish media, our purpose in this report is to explore whether similar trends are now also visible in the UK. • We use computational content analysis to explore the chronological prevalence in UK news media of words which denote prejudice (i.e., sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.) and ‘social justice’ or ‘woke’ rhetoric (i.e., white privilege, whiteness, cultural appropriation, diversity, etc.). Our main interest in doing so is to explore how the media debate has changed over time. • Thus, we present analyses of UK media usage of these terms between the years 2000 and 2020 in 16 million news and opinion articles, published in a nationally representative sample of ten popular British media outlets: The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Mirror, BBC, The Times, Financial Times, Metro, The Telegraph, Daily Mail and The Sun. To our knowledge, this is the most comprehensive analysis of UK media coverage of these issues to date. • Consistent with recent studies in the U.S. and Spain, we find that references to prejudice and social justice rhetoric have increased sharply in UK media in recent years. Between 2010 and 2020, terms such as racism and white supremacy in popular UK media outlets increased on average by 769% and 2,827% respectively, while terms such as sexism, patriarchy and misogyny increased by 169%, 336% and 237% each. Additional terms such as transphobia, islamophobia and anti-semitism increased by 2,578%, 289% and 469% respectively. Similarly, terms associated with social justice discourse have also markedly increased over the same temporal period: diversity (199%), activism (146%), hate speech (880%), inequality (218%), gender-neutral (1,019%) or slavery (413%). • These sharp increases are pervasive across media, regardless of their ideological leanings. But overall prevalence tends to be larger in left-leaning outlets. Mentions of prejudice have also become far more prominent in the BBC, the UK’s leading public service outlet. From 2010 to 2020, mentions in BBC content of terms suggestive of racism have increased by over 802% while mentions of terms suggestive of sexism have increased by 610%. Mentions of homophobia and transphobia increased by 134% and 3,341% respectively. Terms signifying islamophobia and anti-Semitism increased by 585% and 2,431%. • By tracking the temporal prevalence of terms denoting prejudice and social justice in UK news media, we throw light on how the UK media debate is evolving and raise important questions about whether media institutions have got the balance right in how we talk about these issues. In the final section, we consider possible explanations for the sharp increase in the prominence of prejudice and social justice rhetoric in UK news media, including the shifting profile of the UK media class which has increasingly become far more elite.
The Increasing Prominence
of Prejudice and Social Justice
Rhetoric in UK News Media
David Rozado and Matthew Goodwin
July 2022
Cover image: Unsplash.com
Executive Summary 1
1 Introduction 2
2 Data and Methods 4
3 Prominence of prejudice themes
in UK news media content 6
4 Prominence of social justice
rhetoric in UK news media content 10
5 Dierences between Left-
and Right-leaning Media 13
6 The BBC and the rest of the media 15
7 Implications and Discussion 16
The co-authors thank the School of
Politics and International Relations at the
University of Kent, Otago Polytechnic in
New Zealand, the Legatum Institute, peer
reviewers from news media and academe
in the UK who provided invaluable
thoughts and comments on early drafts,
and an individual who wishes to remain
anonymous for a small donation of £5,000
which supported the preparation and
publication of this report.
Contents Acknowledgements
About the authors
Professor Matthew J. Goodwin
is Professor of Political Science at the University of Kent, a Fellow at the Legatum Institute,
co-author of National Populism and tweets @GoodwinMJ
David Rozado
is an Associate Professor at Otago Polytechnic in New Zealand with research interests in
computational social science. He tweets @DavidRozado
Recent years have seen considerable
debate about the rise of political
polarisation in British society. Specically,
over the last decade, various studies suggest
that the UK is now rapidly following the
United States into a more polarised politics
in which intensifying ‘culture wars’ over
issues such as racism, identity, diversity,
history, the legacy of history, and ‘social
justice’ or so-called ‘woke’ politics are
becoming more prominent. This matters
because it is, arguably, undermining the
cohesion and stability of our society.
While this debate focuses on the role of
party politics, much less attention has
focused on the relationship between
news media and rising polarisation.
Building on recent pioneering research
which has tracked a sharp increase in the
overall prominence of prejudice and social
justice rhetoric in US and Spanish media, our
purpose in this report is to explore whether
similar trends are now also visible in the UK.
We use computational content analysis
to explore the chronological prevalence
in UK news media of words which denote
prejudice (i.e., sexism, racism, homophobia,
etc.) and ‘social justice’ or ‘woke’ rhetoric
(i.e., white privilege, whiteness, cultural
appropriation, diversity, etc.). Our main
interest in doing so is to explore how the
media debate has changed over time.
Thus, we present analyses of UK media
usage of these terms between the years
2000 and 2020 in 16 million news and
opinion articles, published in a nationally
representative sample of ten popular
British media outlets: The Guardian, The
Independent, The Daily Mirror, BBC, The Times,
Financial Times, Metro, The Telegraph, Daily
Mail and The Sun. To our knowledge, this
is the most comprehensive analysis of UK
media coverage of these issues to date.
Consistent with recent studies in the U.S.
and Spain, we nd that references to
prejudice and social justice rhetoric have
increased sharply in UK media in recent
years. Between 2010 and 2020, terms such
as racism and white supremacy in popular UK
media outlets increased on average by 769%
and 2,827% respectively, while terms such
as sexism, patriarchy and misogyny increased
by 169%, 336% and 237% each. Additional
terms such as transphobia, islamophobia and
anti-semitism increased by 2,578%, 289%
and 469% respectively. Similarly, terms
associated with social justice discourse have
also markedly increased over the same
temporal period: diversity (199%), activism
(146%), hate speech (880%), inequality (218%),
gender-neutral (1,019%) or slavery (413%).
These sharp increases are pervasive
across media, regardless of their
ideological leanings. But overall prevalence
tends to be larger in left-leaning outlets.
Mentions of prejudice have also become
far more prominent in the BBC, the UK’s
leading public service outlet. From 2010 to
2020, mentions in BBC content of terms
suggestive of racism have increased by over
802% while mentions of terms suggestive of
sexism have increased by 610%. Mentions
of homophobia and transphobia increased
by 134% and 3,341% respectively. Terms
signifying islamophobia and anti-Semitism
increased by 585% and 2,431%.
By tracking the temporal prevalence
of terms denoting prejudice and social
justice in UK news media, we throw light
on how the UK media debate is evolving
and raise important questions about
whether media institutions have got the
balance right in how we talk about these
issues. In the nal section, we consider
possible explanations for the sharp increase
in the prominence of prejudice and social
justice rhetoric in UK news media, including
the shifting prole of the UK media class
which has increasingly become far more elite.
Executive Summary
The Increasing Prominence of Prejudice and Social Justice Rhetoric in UK News Media
1
Recent years have seen considerable
debate about the rise of political
polarisation and the so-called ‘culture wars’
in the United Kingdom. These debates have
tracked the rise of national populist parties
such as the UK Independence Party and the
Brexit Party, the Brexit referendum in 2016,
the rise of Boris Johnson, and intensifying
debates about racism, immigration, gender,
statues, and Britain’s empire.
Against this backdrop, various studies have
warned that the UK is now following the United
States into a far more polarised or divisive
politics, where people on dierent sides of
the political divide become mutually hostile
toward one another. Drawing on nationally
representative surveys, researchers at King’s
College London, led by Professor Bobby Duy,
have pointed to “clear echoes” in the UK of the
more polarised politics that has gripped the
United States in recent years.1
In 2021, ve years after the Brexit debate, they
found that people’s views on cultural issues
such as identity and diversity have become
intimately tied up with the side of the Brexit
debate with which they identify, while people’s
identities as Labour or Conservative voters,
show similar alignments, providing ‘conditions
for more all-encompassing division’.2
Research by the Centre for Policy Studies has
also pointed to the same conclusion. Drawing
on surveys and focus groups with voters,
they suggest the UK is on the same road as
America, albeit a few miles behind, heading
into a more polarised politics in which large
numbers of people feel deeply disillusioned and
divided, especially on identity and culture.3
These ndings have also been reinforced by
other academic studies. Drawing on surveys
with British voters, scholars have warned about
the rise of what is called ‘aective polarization’,
namely, the way in which, since Brexit, many
British people have embraced new political
identities as Leavers and Remainers which
lead them to feel positively about members of
their own political tribe but negatively toward
members of the opposing political tribe.4
Much of this reects earlier ndings in the U.S.
where, amid the rise of new cultural debates
about things such as racism, immigration,
diversity, the legacy of history, and ‘social
justice’ or ‘woke politics’, Republicans and
Democrats have developed very strong
emotional attachments to people on their
own side which have not only inuenced the
positions they take on specic issues but have
also left them feeling more hostile toward
people on the other side.5
The rise of this more polarised political
environment is deeply concerning given
that democracies require both people and
leaders to engage respectfully with one
another, especially on divisive issues.6 It
undermines the cohesion of our societies,
fuels division among dierent groups of voters,
and emboldens foreign actors who look to
exploit these internal tensions for
geopolitical advantages.
But, at the same time, much of the existing
research has only explored this issue through
the narrow lens of party politics while largely
ignoring one of the most powerful and
inuential institutions in society: the media.
In Britain and other Western democracies,
it is now well established that news media
can have signicant ‘agenda-setting eects’,
shaping public perceptions and people’s
concerns about phenomena in the world
around them. Recent studies have shown that
increased media coverage of certain topics–
such as immigration, crime, or terrorism–tends
to precede increases in public concern about
these issues, revealing how media can shape
the national agenda in very powerful ways,
inuencing public opinion and politics.7
1. Introduction
The Increasing Prominence of Prejudice and Social Justice Rhetoric in UK News Media
2
The Increasing Prominence of Prejudice and Social Justice Rhetoric in UK News Media
More recently, in the United States, research
by one of the co-authors of this report, David
Rozado, shows how the media debate has
fundamentally changed in recent years. After
analysing data from 47 media outlets, between
1970 and 2019, the research documented
the so-called ‘Great Awokening’ of media, by
tracking a sharp rise in references to terms
that denote prejudice–such as racism, sexism,
homophobia, transphobia, anti-semitism
and Islamophobia.8
Previous research by the same author had
already documented substantial increases in
US news media discourse of terms such as
social justice, diversity or cultural appropriation.9
Thus, paradoxically, despite the well-
documented decline in overt expressions
of prejudice that has taken place in many
Western societies over the last ve decades,10
the media has become far more focused on
these contested ideas.
As shown in Figure 1, whether on the right
or left, prejudice-denoting terms became far
more prominent within the US media debate
throughout the 2010s. While this sharp increase
began before Donald Trump’s presidential bid
in 2015, his election and the more polarised
politics which followed might have contributed
to the consolidation of this trend. In turn, this
shift appears to have preceded increased public
concerns about the prevalence of prejudice in
society.11 Similar trends have been uncovered
in Spanish news media where the same method
of analysis has documented a sharp increase in
the frequency of terms which denote forms of
prejudice related to gender, ethnicity, sexuality,
and religion.12
Figure 1
Average prevalence of prejudice-denoting terms across popular U.S. news media outlets sorted by ratings of outlets’
political bias from AllSides.13
The Increasing Prominence of Prejudice and Social Justice Rhetoric in UK News Media
3
The Increasing Prominence of Prejudice and Social Justice Rhetoric in UK News Media
The so-called ‘Great Awokening’ in
media discourse is now attracting
global attention, from journalists
and analysts on both the left
and right, including reputable
mainstream magazines such
as The Economist, Vox, and The
Guardian.14 In this report, we ask
the following question: to what
extent is this ‘Great Awokening’
now also visible in UK media?
To answer this question, we explore UK media
trends between the years 2000 and 2020,
using the same techniques that were used
to examine US and Spanish news media. To
our knowledge, this is the rst comprehensive
attempt at exploring the prevalence of
prejudice and social justice rhetoric across
a large and representative sample of written
articles in UK media.
While we are not making causal claims about
the role of media in the polarisation of UK
society, we are able to show, descriptively, and
for the rst time, key media trends over time,
which contributes to the debate. We also hope
this report will inspire future research on the
relationship between news media, polarisation
and the culture wars.
The list of UK news outlets analysed for this
report was derived from a YouGov ranking
which lists the most popular newspapers in
the UK.15 We added the BBC to this list since
despite not being a newspaper, it is one
of the most popular and inuential news
outlets in the UK. Ratings about the political
leanings of UK news outlets were taken
from three dierent sources that rank the
political biases of news media, namely, Ad
Fontes Media,16 AllSides17 and YouGov.18 All
three sources mostly overlap in their political
biases ratings of each news outlet analysed.
To adjudicate occasional disagreements, we
took a majority vote of the three sources to
use as labels of news outlets political leanings.
Our method to analyse news media articles is
described in supplementary material and has
been shown previously to accurately capture
historical events and social trends.19 Here, we
briey mention that yearly relative frequencies
of a target term in an outlet were estimated
by dividing the number of occurrences of the
target term in all sample articles from the given
year by the total number of all words in all
sample articles from that year. This method of
estimating frequency takes into account the
varying number of articles produced per year
by each media outlet. Overall, we analysed
over 16 million articles from 10 popular UK
news media outlets.
Despite the potential for occasional noisy
outliers in any big data analysis, overall, we
are condent that our frequency metrics are
representative of word prevalence in print
news media content. For readers who are
unfamiliar with this method, Figure 2 provides
a visual demonstration, presenting the ‘min-
max’ scaled yearly frequencies of some
illustrative terms in The Guardian during the
past twenty years.20 The gure shows how our
method accurately captures media coverage
over time of key events, parties and political
developments, with coverage of terms such as
UKIP, Brexit, the Arab Spring, or the breakaway
political party Change UK rising and falling at
the expected points in time. The temporal
sensitivity of the trends gives us condence
in our data, analysis, and ndings.
2. Data and Methods
The Increasing Prominence of Prejudice and Social Justice Rhetoric in UK News Media
4
Figure 2
Min-max scaled yearly frequencies of term usage in The Guardian
The Increasing Prominence of Prejudice and Social Justice Rhetoric in UK News Media
5
We now turn to discuss our ndings. Since
the year 2000, the prevalence in UK news
media of terms denoting dierent types
of prejudice has increased sharply (see
Figure 3). Across the 10 most popular news
media outlets in the UK, mentions of ethnic
prejudice have increased, on average, by
162%. The gender prejudice theme has
increased by 174%. Prejudice themes relating
to sexual orientation, gender identity and
Islamic or Semitic religious orientation have
also similarly increased, by 127%, 7,537%,
4,883% and 315% respectively.
While the individual trends vary, there is a
common pattern across all six of them, namely,
a marked increase in their prevalence in UK
media post-2010. Crucially, as can be seen
in Figure 3, this sharp increase preceded the
Brexit referendum of 2016.
Figure 3
Average prevalence of prejudice-denoting terms in popular U.K. news media outlets. The shaded areas around the
mean trends display the 95% condence intervals. The 2000 to 2020 percentage change across outlets is shown on
the upper left of each subplot. The symbol ‡ in subplot d denotes that no instances of the terms were found in the
year 2000 so the year with the earliest appearance of either term is used instead.
3. Prominence of prejudice themes
in UK news media content
The Increasing Prominence of Prejudice and Social Justice Rhetoric in UK News Media
6
Figure 4
Average prevalence of prejudice-denoting words across U.K. (blue) and U.S. (orange) news media. The shaded areas
display the 95% condence intervals around the means. The Pearson correlation coecients between both time series
are shown in the upper-left of each subplot.
The patterns in Figure 3 are highly reminiscent
of the ‘Great Awokening’ trends in American
and Spanish media.21 Indeed, the degree of
coupling between US and UK news media
outlets with respect to the prominence of
themes denoting prejudice is substantial (see
the large Pearson’s correlation coecients
between UK and US news media mentions of
prejudice in Figure 4). Overall, the prevalence
of prejudice topics in UK media is larger than
in their US counterparts, suggesting that
Britain is experiencing similar, if not stronger,
trends. An exception to this trend is the ethnic/
racial prejudice theme where in the last couple
of years its prevalence in US news media has
surpassed its British counterparts.
The Increasing Prominence of Prejudice and Social Justice Rhetoric in UK News Media
7
Figure 5
Prevalence of prejudice-denoting terms in popular U.K. news media outlets.
A visualization of the prominence of these
prejudice themes in individual UK outlets
is shown in Figure 5. Ethnic and gender
prejudice-denoting terms are very prominent
in The Independent and The Guardian but are
much less apparent in the Financial Times.
Prejudice related to sexual orientation or
gender identity is very prominent in Metro
and not so much in tabloids such as The Sun
or The Daily Mirror. In recent years, the
prominence of the anti-Semitism prejudice
type is largest in The Telegraph.
The Increasing Prominence of Prejudice and Social Justice Rhetoric in UK News Media
8
Figure 6
Percentage changes in the frequency of prejudice-denoting terms in UK news media outlets between 2010 and 2020.
The Sun newspaper is absent from this analysis since we lack a representative sample of that outlet for the year 2010.
Only six outlets in our data set mentioned terms denoting gender identity prejudice in the year 2010, so they are the
only ones included in subplot d.
To precisely quantify recent changes in
prominence within individual outlets, Figure 6
shows the percentage increases in mentions
between 2010 and 2020 for the dierent
prejudice themes studied. Overall, between
2010 and 2020, the prevalence of the racism
theme increased by 802% in the BBC, 734%
in The Independent and 345% in The Guardian.
The prevalence of sexism increased by
610% in the BBC, 315% in the Metro, 240%
in The Independent and 180% in The Times.
The prevalence of transphobia increased
even more sharply, rising by 10,273% in The
Independent, 3,637% in the Daily Mirror and
553% in The Guardian.
The Increasing Prominence of Prejudice and Social Justice Rhetoric in UK News Media
9
We next examine the prevalence in UK
media of an additional set of terms that are
associated with ‘social justice’ discourse,
or what its opponents refer to as ‘woke’
politics. As academics have shown, so-called
‘social justice’, is especially focused on
identity-related issues as well as historical
phenomena with potentially lingering
contemporary eects, such as the legacy of
empire, colonialism or slavery.22 To explore
the prominence of social justice rhetoric in
UK media, we now examine the prevalence
of terms usually associated with social
justice discourse, such as diversity, equality,
unconscious bias, stereotypes, colonialism,
white privilege, slavery, or gender pronouns.
As shown in Figure 7, these terms, like the
prejudice-denoting terminology documented
in the previous section, have also become
far more prominent in UK media over the
last twenty years and their uptick also begins
before the fractious debates over Brexit. Some
increases since 2000 have been relatively
moderate, like those for social justice and
diversity at 118% and 238% respectively.
Others, however, have seen far more sharp
growth, such as unconscious bias (13,702%),
cultural appropriation (18,611%), gender neutral
(3,468%), or hate speech (4,673%). These trends
reect the growth of social justice rhetoric
within the UK media cycle and the extent to
which it has been embraced by media.
For the terms in Figure 7, there is also a
large degree of coupling between US and
UK news media organizations, as shown in
Figure 8. This provides further evidence that
the ‘Great Awokening’ trend in the US is now
also visible in the UK, where, increasingly, the
most prominent media outlets are embracing
the same social justice vocabulary as their
American counterparts, despite also having
a very dierent history with regard to issues
such as race and slavery.
4. Prominence of social justice rhetoric in
UK news media content
The Increasing Prominence of Prejudice and Social Justice Rhetoric in UK News Media
10
Figure 7
Average prevalence in U.K. news media of terms often associated with social justice discourse. The shaded areas
display the 95% condence interval around the means. The 2000 to 2020 percentage increase in prevalence of every
term is shown on the upper left of each subplot. The ‡ symbols next to some subplot percentage changes denote
that no instances of the term were found in the year 2000 so the year with the earliest appearance of the term is
used instead.
The Increasing Prominence of Prejudice and Social Justice Rhetoric in UK News Media
11
Figure 8
Average prevalence of terms often associated with social justice discourse across U.K. news media (blue) and U.S.
news media (orange). The shaded areas display the 95% condence intervals around the means. The Pearson
correlation coecients between both time series are shown in the upper-left of each subplot.
The Increasing Prominence of Prejudice and Social Justice Rhetoric in UK News Media
12
5. Dierences between Left-
and Right-leaning Media
To what extent are these trends more
visible on the left or right of media? We next
describe an analysis of these trends while
controlling for the ideological leanings of
UK media outlets. We use external ratings
of news outlets political bias.23 Our results,
presented in Figure 9, indicate a large degree
of correlation in the increasing usage of
prejudice-denoting terms regardless of the
ideological perspective of media. Whether
left, right, or centre, all of UK media has
witnessed a sharp increase in the prevalence
of prejudice-denoting terms.
Yet, at the same time, the average prominence
of most prejudice denoting themes is larger
in left-leaning media outlets than right-leaning
ones. References to racism, for example, are
73% more prevalent in left-leaning media
outlets such as The Guardian, The Daily Mirror,
and The Independent than they are in right-
leaning outlets, such as The Telegraph, The
Daily Mail, and The Sun. It is a similar story
for sexism (74% more prevalent on the left),
homophobia (119% more prevalent on the
left), transphobia (127% more prevalent on the
left) and Islamophobia (197% more prevalent
on the left). The one exception to this trend is
for the period 2015 to 2020, when references
to anti-Semitism were more prominent in
right-leaning news media.
Figure 9
Average prevalence of prejudice-denoting terms in popular U.K. news media sorted according to external ratings
of outlets’ political bias. The correlation matrix between the three time series (left-leaning, center-leaning and right-
leaning outlets) is shown in the upper left of each subplot. The mean left (L) to right (R) prevalence ratio is shown
below the correlation matrix.
The Increasing Prominence of Prejudice and Social Justice Rhetoric in UK News Media
13
Similar to the patterns above, the prominence of terms
denoting ‘social justice’ or ‘woke’ discourse has also
been increasing across UK news outlets regardless of
their ideological leanings, though once again the trend
appears starker in left-leaning outlets, see Figure 10. This,
too, conrms media trends previously reported in other
Western democracies, such as the US and Spain, where
media has also been shown to have adopted a very
similar discourse.24
Figure 10
Average prevalence of terms associated with social justice discourse in popular U.K. news media outlets sorted
according to external ratings of outlets’ political bias.
The Increasing Prominence of Prejudice and Social Justice Rhetoric in UK News Media
14
Figure 11
Prevalence of prejudice-denoting terms in the BBC (solid red trend) and average prevalence in other popular U.K
news media outlets (dashed blue trend). The Pearson correlation coecients between both time series are shown
in the upper-left of each subplot.
Given the importance of the BBC as the
premier UK public service news outlet, we
conclude our results section by comparing
the prevalence dynamics of the prejudice
themes studied in this report between the
BBC and other popular UK news media
outlets, see Figure 11.
In general, the prevalence of prejudice themes
in BBC content is very similar to the average
prevalence of such topics in the rest of the
UK news media landscape. The correlation
between both time series is also extremely
high conrming a high degree of coupling for
these topics between the BBC and the rest
of the UK news media.
6. The BBC and the rest of the media
The Increasing Prominence of Prejudice and Social Justice Rhetoric in UK News Media
15
In this report, we have documented a sharp
increase in the prominence of prejudice and
social justice rhetoric in UK news media over
a ten-year period, from 2010 to 2020. Using
computational content analysis techniques,
we have shown how similar trends in
countries such as Spain and the United
States, referred to as the so-called ‘Great
Awokening’, are now just as visible,
if not more so, in UK media.
We have also found that some prejudice
themes have been decreasing in prevalence
in 2020 with respect to previous years in U.K.
and U.S. news media. This could be due to
society or newsrooms having reached peak-
concern with some types of prejudice around
2018-2019. Alternatively, the beginning of
the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 could have
grabbed such a substantial amount of news
media attention as to distort the broader
trend, which may well resume when the
global pandemic recedes.
How might we explain the overall picture
regarding the increasing prominence of
prejudice and social justice rhetoric in
UK media? We suggest three possible
explanations which, we hope, will attract
further research and debate–especially
among the media.
The rst plausible explanation for the trends
documented in this report is growing public
sensitivity to potentially lingering prejudice in
British society which, in turn, is reected in the
UK newsroom. Though research has shown
a decline in overt expressions of prejudicial
attitudes since the 1970s,25 some writers have
pointed to the rise of greater public sensitivity
in Britain and other democracies over actual or
perceived prejudice. A relaxation of the criteria
used to dene what counts as prejudice, in the
form of concept creep and prevalence-induced
concept change,26 might also be playing a
role in this process.
Civil society campaigner Sunder Katwala,
for example, has talked about the ‘higher
expectations’ that more recent generations
of Britons have regarding the need to call
out racism and discrimination, compared to
older generations.27 Seen through this lens,
while overt prejudice in British society has
been falling, social intolerance of potential
remaining prejudice has been rising, especially
as young people embrace a more assertive
‘anti-racism’ agenda, which is promoted in
schools, universities and other institutions,
and encourages a strong focus on concepts
such as white privilege, white guilt, cultural
appropriation, and institutional racism.
Consequently, the media might be simply
echoing this growing societal sensitivity.
An alternative second explanation is that
the center of ideological gravity in UK media
newsrooms has shifted in recent years. In
Britain and other Western democracies,
surveys have shown that journalists lean
more to the left than the general population.28
Furthermore, the journalistic profession
appears to be moving further leftwards,
especially as prestige news media is
increasingly organized and edited by university
graduates from elite universities who also tend
to hold more socially liberal beliefs and who
have drifted to the left on cultural issues.29
According to a 2022 report by the National
Council for the Training of Journalists, almost
90% of Britain’s journalists had at least a
degree-level education, compared to less
than half of Britain’s workforce (while junior
journalists were even more highly qualied and
more likely to come from elite backgrounds).30
According to the Reuters Institute at the
University of Oxford, by the 2010s, journalism
in Britain had become ‘fully academised’, with
98% of journalists who began work at this time
having at least a bachelor’s degree and 36%
having a master’s.31 When the same institute
asked journalists to place themselves on the
ideological spectrum, more than half, 53%,
placed themselves on the left but only 23%
placed themselves on the right (the rest were
in the centre).32 This disparity was even more
acute for younger rank-and-le journalists
(56% left-leaning versus 18% right-leaning).
British journalists are also far more likely
to come from upper middle class or higher
socioeconomic status households, where at
least one parent works in a higher professional
or managerial role; while 80% of journalists
7. Implications and Discussion
The Increasing Prominence of Prejudice and Social Justice Rhetoric in UK News Media
16
come from this background only 42% of British
workers do. ‘The educational backgrounds
of people in the top jobs in UK media’, notes
the Sutton Trust, ‘with a focus here on those
working in news, politics and current aairs,
look very dierent to the general population,
with newspaper columnists the least like the
audiences they write for’.33
Given that university graduates
tend to hold more socially liberal
values, institutions that rely more
heavily on graduates, such as
media, might now also be shifting
sharply leftwards on issues
regarding identity, diversity, and
social justice as new university
graduates recruits replace older
generations of journalists.
None of this is unique to Britain. As American
writer Batya Ungar-Sargon points out in her
book, Bad News, in many Western democracies’
journalism has morphed into a profession of
privilege, from a trade where people neither
had much training nor a degree to one lled
with the highly educated children of high
socioeconomic status families who often
hold more left-leaning views.34
Therefore, one plausible explanation for the
increasing mentions of prejudice themes and
social justice terminology in media content
could be due to the increasingly liberal
ideological composition of newsrooms that
might shape journalists’ choices of topics to
cover since people who identify more strongly
on the left are far more focused on the topic
of prejudice.35
A third potential explanation for the rising
incidence of prejudice and social justice
rhetoric in news media content could be the
recent emergence of nancial incentives for
media organizations to maximize diusion of
news articles through social media channels by
triggering negative sentiment/emotions,36 and/
or political out-group animosity, both of which
have been shown to drive engagement of
social media-based news consumption.37
By focusing on more moralistic and polarising
language, designed to generate clicks on social
media platforms, the new social-media driven
incentives may be encouraging discursive
shifts in news media, though we would
welcome insights in this regard from
media organizations themselves.
One important limitation of this work is that
the relative frequency metric used to measure
news media attention to prejudice and social
justice themes misses critical contextual detail
about the context in which the studied terms
are being used. It is conceivable that at least
some mentions of prejudice or social justice
terms, for example in right-leaning outlets,
might be due to content that is critical of the
perceived excesses of so-called ‘woke’ politics
(although this would not account for rising
prominence of social justice rhetoric on left-
leaning news media outlets). Future research
could use more advanced quantitative and
qualitative techniques such as computational
sentiment classication or multi-rater content
analysis to parse the armative and critical
usage of the sets of terms targeted in this work.
To conclude, we have documented a
substantial increase in British news media
content between 2010 and 2020 of prejudice
and social justice rhetoric. These trends
are reminiscence of similar phenomena
also happening in US and Spanish news
media.38 Previous research has noted a
potential association between the prevalence
of prejudice denoting terms in news media
content and increasing public concern about
the severity of prejudice in society.39 Yet, a
demonstrated causal link remains elusive and,
as far as we can tell, missing from the existing
literature. We hope that future research can
examine the causal relationship between
news media discourse and public
perceptions of prejudice in society.
The Increasing Prominence of Prejudice and Social Justice Rhetoric in UK News Media
17
1 https://www.kcl.ac.uk/news/uks-culture-war-risks-leading-to-
us-style-divisions-although-not-there-yet
2 https://www.kcl.ac.uk/news/uks-culture-war-risks-leading-to-
us-style-divisions-although-not-there-yet
3 https://cps.org.uk/media/post/2021/cps-publishes-landmark-
survey-by-dr-frank-luntz-on-politics-economics-and-culture-
wars/
4 Hobolt, Sara B., Thomas J. Leeper, and James Tilley. 2021.
Divided by the vote: Aective polarization in the wake of the
Brexit referendum, British Journal of Political Science 51.4,
pp.1476-1493
5 See, for example, Lilliana Mason. 2018. Uncivil Agreement:
How politics became our identity. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press
6 Dahl, Robert A. 1967. Pluralist Democracy in the United States:
Conict and consent. New York: Rand McNally
7 McCombs, M., & Valenzuela, S. (2020). Setting the agenda:
Mass media and public opinion. John Wiley & Sons
8 Rozado, D., Al-Gharbi, M., & Halberstadt, J. (2021). Prevalence
of Prejudice-Denoting Words in News Media Discourse: A
Chronological Analysis. Social Science Computer Review,
08944393211031452
9 Rozado, D. (2020). Prejudice and Victimization Themes
in New York Times Discourse: a Chronological Analysis.
Academic Questions, 33(1), 89-101
10 Moberg, S. P., Krysan, M., & Christianson, D. (2019). Racial
attitudes in America. Public Opinion Quarterly, 83(2), 450-
471. McCarthy, J. (2020). US support for same-sex marriage
matches record high. Washington, DC: Gallup. Gao, G.
(2015). Most Americans now say learning their child is gay
wouldn’t upset them. Charlesworth, T. E., & Banaji, M. R.
(2019). Patterns of implicit and explicit attitudes: I. Long-
term change and stability from 2007 to 2016. Psychological
science, 30(2), 174-192. Meagher, K. D., & Shu, X. (2019).
Trends in US gender attitudes, 1977 to 2018: Gender and
educational disparities. Socius, 5, 2378023119851692.
Hopkins, D. J., & Washington, S. (2020). The rise of Trump,
the fall of prejudice? Tracking white Americans’ racial
attitudes via a panel survey, 2008–2018. Public Opinion
Quarterly, 84(1), 119-140
11 Rozado, D. (2020). Prejudice and Victimization Themes
in New York Times Discourse: a Chronological Analysis.
Academic Questions, 33(1), 89-101. Rozado, D., Al-Gharbi, M.,
& Halberstadt, J. (2021). Prevalence of Prejudice-Denoting
Words in News Media Discourse: A Chronological Analysis.
Social Science Computer Review, 08944393211031452;
Marsden, P. V., Smith, T. W., & Hout, M. (2020). Tracking US
social change over a half-century: The general social survey
at fty. Annual Review of Sociology, 46, 109-134. Meagher,
K. D., & Shu, X. (2019). Trends in US gender attitudes, 1977
to 2018: Gender and educational disparities. Socius, 5,
2378023119851692
12 Rozado, David. "The Prevalence of Prejudice-Denoting
Terms in Spanish Newspapers." Social Sciences 11.2
(2022): 33
13 AllSides. (2019). AllSides Media Bias Ratings. AllSides.
https://www.allsides.com/blog/updated-allsides-media-bias-
chart-version-11
14 The Economist. 2021. How Did American ‘Wokeness’
Jump from Elite Schools to Everyday Life? September 4;
Ungar-Sargon, Batya. 2021. Bad News: How Woke Media
Is Undermining Democracy. New York: Encounter Books;
Yglesias, Matthew. 2019. White Liberals Are Embracing
Progressive Racial Politics and Transforming America. Vox.
March 22
15 https://yougov.co.uk/ratings/media/popularity/
newspaper/all
16 Andrew McGee. (2021). Interactive Media Bias Chart. Ad
Fontes Media https://adfontesmedia.com/interactive-media-
bias-chart/
17 AllSides. (2019). AllSides Media Bias Ratings. AllSides.
https://www.allsides.com/blog/updated-allsides-media-bias-
chart-version-11
18 How left or right-wing are the UK’s newspapers? | YouGov.
(n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2021, from https://yougov.
co.uk/topics/politics/articles-reports/2017/03/07/how-left-
or-right-wing-are-uks-newspapers
19 Rozado, D., Al-Gharbi, M., & Halberstadt, J. (2021).
Prevalence of Prejudice-Denoting Words in News Media
Discourse: A Chronological Analysis. Social Science
Computer Review, 08944393211031452. Rozado, D., &
Kaufmann, E. (2022). The Increasing Frequency of Terms
Denoting Political Extremism in US and UK News Media.
Social Sciences, 11(4), 167. In this report, the temporal
coverage of articles availability in dierent online news
outlets is not uniform. For some U.K. news media
organizations, substantial news articles availability in online
domains or Internet cache repositories becomes sparse
for earlier years. For reproducibility purposes, the list of
written articles URLs analyzed for this report and the counts
of target words and total words per article are provided as
supplementary material in electronic form (DOI: https://doi.
org/10.5281/zenodo.6482344)
20 Min-max scaling is a common way to normalize time series.
The method rescales the range of the data to a scale
between 0 and 1 using the formula shown in Figure 2
where y is the original frequency count for a given word
and y' is its normalized/scaled value. Min-max scaling of
frequency counts allows for comparison of minimum and
maximum temporal prevalence across terms in the corpus
irrespective of their absolute/relative frequencies ranges
21 Rozado, D. (2020). Prejudice and Victimization Themes
in New York Times Discourse: a Chronological Analysis.
Academic Questions, 33(1), 89-101. Rozado, D., Al-
Gharbi, M., & Halberstadt, J. (2021). Prevalence of
Prejudice-Denoting Words in News Media Discourse: A
Chronological Analysis. Social Science Computer Review,
08944393211031452; Rozado, D. (2022). The Prevalence of
Prejudice-Denoting Terms in Spanish Newspapers. Social
Sciences, 11(2), 33
Endnotes
The Increasing Prominence of Prejudice and Social Justice Rhetoric in UK News Media
18
22 For academic books which explore the roots of this ideology
see Kaufmann, E. (2018). Whiteshift: Populism, immigration
and the future of white majorities. Penguin UK; Haidt, J., &
Lukiano, G. (2018). The coddling of the American mind: How
good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for
failure. Penguin UK
23 AllSides. (2019). AllSides Media Bias Ratings. AllSides.
https://www.allsides.com/blog/updated-allsides-media-
bias-chart-version-11. How left or right-wing are the UK’s
newspapers? | YouGov. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19,
2021, from https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/articles-
reports/2017/03/07/how-left-or-right-wing-are-uks-
newspapers. Andrew McGee. (2021). Interactive Media
Bias Chart. Ad Fontes Media https://adfontesmedia.com/
interactive-media-bias-chart/
24 Rozado, D. (2020). Prejudice and Victimization Themes
in New York Times Discourse: a Chronological Analysis.
Academic Questions, 33(1), 89-101.
https://davidrozado.substack.com/p/frecuencia-de-
terminos-en-el-periodico
https://davidrozado.substack.com/p/ppdwnmd
25 Moberg, S. P., Krysan, M., & Christianson, D. (2019). Racial
attitudes in America. Public Opinion Quarterly, 83(2), 450-
471. McCarthy, J. (2020). US support for same-sex marriage
matches record high. Washington, DC: Gallup. Gao, G.
(2015). Most Americans now say learning their child is gay
wouldn’t upset them. Charlesworth, T. E., & Banaji, M. R.
(2019). Patterns of implicit and explicit attitudes: I. Long-
term change and stability from 2007 to 2016. Psychological
science, 30(2), 174-192. Meagher, K. D., & Shu, X. (2019).
Trends in US gender attitudes, 1977 to 2018: Gender and
educational disparities. Socius, 5, 2378023119851692.
Hopkins, D. J., & Washington, S. (2020). The rise of Trump,
the fall of prejudice? Tracking white Americans’ racial
attitudes via a panel survey, 2008–2018. Public Opinion
Quarterly, 84(1), 119-140
26 Haslam, N. (2016). Concept creep: Psychology's expanding
concepts of harm and pathology. Psychological Inquiry,
27(1), 1-17. Levari, D. E., Gilbert, D. T., Wilson, T. D., Sievers,
B., Amodio, D. M., & Wheatley, T. (2018). Prevalence-induced
concept change in human judgment. Science, 360(6396),
1465-1467
27 https://www.britishfuture.org/enoch-rivers-blood-ancient-
history-britons-2018/
28 Benson, Rodney. 2005. American Journalism and the
Politics of Diversity. Media, Culture & Society 27: 5–20. Call,
Andrew C., Scott A. Emett, Eldar Maksymov, and Nathan Y.
Sharp. 2021. Meet the Press: Survey Evidence on Financial
Journalists as Information Intermediaries. SSRN Scholarly
Paper. ID 3279453. Rochester: Social Science Research
Network. Dennis, Everette E. 1997. How ‘Liberal’ Are the
Media, Anyway?: The Continuing Conict of Professionalism
and Partisanship. Harvard International Journal of Press/
Politics 2: 115–19. Hopmann, David Nicolas, Christian
Elmelund-Præstekær, and Klaus Levinsen. 2010. Journalism
Students: Left-Wing and Politically Motivated? Journalism 11:
661–74. 2021. Why Are Journalists so Left-Wing? UnHerd.
Available online: https://unherd.com/thepost/why-are-
journalists-so-left-wing/ (accessed on 10 February 2022)
29 Pew Research, 1615 L. St. 2016. Ideological Gap Widens
Between More, Less Educated Adults. Pew Research
Center—U.S. Politics & Policy. Available online: https://www.
pewresearch.org/politics/2016/04/26/a-wider-ideological-
gap-between-more-and-less-educated-adults/ (accessed
on 1 November 2021).
30 NCJT (2022) Diversity in Journalism: An update on the
characteristics of journalists. National Council for the
Training of Journalists
31 Neil Thurman, Alessio Cornia and Jessica Kunert (2016)
Journalists in the UK, Reuters Institute for the Study
of Journalism
32 Neil Thurman, Alessio Cornia and Jessica Kunert (2016)
Journalists in the UK, Reuters Institute for the Study of
Journalism
33 Sutton Trust (2019) Elitist Britain. Sutton Trust, p.41
34 Ungar-Sargon, B. (2021). Bad News: How Woke Media Is
Undermining Democracy. Encounter Books
35 Duarte, J. L., Crawford, J. T., Stern, C., Haidt, J., Jussim, L., &
Tetlock, P. E. (2015). Political diversity will improve social
psychological science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 38,
1-13.DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X14000430
36 Hansen, Lars Kai, Adam Arvidsson, Finn Aarup Nielsen,
Elanor Colleoni, and Michael Etter. 2011. Good Friends, Bad
News—Aect and Virality in Twitter. In Future Information
Technology, Communications in Computer and Information
Science. Edited by James J. Park, Laurence T. Yang and
Changhoon Lee. Berlin/Heidelberg: Springer, pp. 34–43
37 Rathje, Steve, Jay J. Van Bavel, and Sander van der Linden.
2021. Out-Group Animosity Drives Engagement on Social
Media. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
USA 118: e2024292118
38 Rozado, D. (2020). Prejudice and Victimization Themes
in New York Times Discourse: a Chronological Analysis.
Academic Questions, 33(1), 89-101. Rozado, D., Al-
Gharbi, M., & Halberstadt, J. (2021). Prevalence of
Prejudice-Denoting Words in News Media Discourse: A
Chronological Analysis. Social Science Computer Review,
08944393211031452; Rozado, D. (2022). The Prevalence of
Prejudice-Denoting Terms in Spanish Newspapers. Social
Sciences, 11(2), 33
39 Rozado, D., Al-Gharbi, M., & Halberstadt, J. (2021).
Prevalence of Prejudice-Denoting Words in News Media
Discourse: A Chronological Analysis. Social Science
Computer Review, 08944393211031452
The Increasing Prominence of Prejudice and Social Justice Rhetoric in UK News Media
19
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Article
Full-text available
Previous scholarly literature has documented a pronounced increase in the prevalence of prejudice-denoting terms in American news media content. Some have referred to this shift in journalistic discourse and related public opinion trends signaling increasing perceptions of prejudice severity in U.S. society as The Great Awokening. This work analyzes whether the increasing prevalence of prejudice themes in American news media outlets has been replicated in the news media ecosystem of a Spanish-speaking country. Thus, we computationally analyzed the prevalence of words denoting prejudice in five million news and opinion articles written between 1976 and 2019 and published in three of the most widely read newspapers in Spain: El País, El Mundo and ABC. We report that within the studied time period, the frequency of terms that denote specific prejudice types related to gender, ethnicity, sexuality and religious orientation has also substantially increased across the analyzed Spanish news media outlets. There are, however, some notable distinctions in the long-term usage dynamics of prejudice-denoting terms between the leading Spanish newspaper of record, El País, and its U.S. counterpart, The New York Times.
Article
Full-text available
Psychologists have demonstrated the value of diversity—particularly diversity of viewpoints—for enhancing creativity, discovery, and problem solving. But one key type of viewpoint diversity is lacking in academic psychology in general and social psychology in particular: political diversity. This article reviews the available evidence and finds support for four claims: 1) Academic psychology once had considerable political diversity, but has lost nearly all of it in the last 50 years; 2) This lack of political diversity can undermine the validity of social psychological science via mechanisms such as the embedding of liberal values into research questions and methods, steering researchers away from important but politically unpalatable research topics, and producing conclusions that mischaracterize liberals and conservatives alike; 3) Increased political diversity would improve social psychological science by reducing the impact of bias mechanisms such as confirmation bias, and by empowering dissenting minorities to improve the quality of the majority’s thinking; and 4) The underrepresentation of non-liberals in social psychology is most likely due to a combination of self-selection, hostile climate, and discrimination. We close with recommendations for increasing political diversity in social psychology.
Article
Full-text available
The link between affect, defined as the capacity for sentimental arousal on the part of a message, and virality, defined as the probability that it be sent along, is of significant theoretical and practical importance, e.g. for viral marketing. A quantitative study of emailing of articles from the NY Times finds a strong link between positive affect and virality, and, based on psychological theories it is concluded that this relation is universally valid. The conclusion appears to be in contrast with classic theory of diffusion in news media emphasizing negative affect as promoting propagation. In this paper we explore the apparent paradox in a quantitative analysis of information diffusion on Twitter. Twitter is interesting in this context as it has been shown to present both the characteristics social and news media. The basic measure of virality in Twitter is the probability of retweet. Twitter is different from email in that retweeting does not depend on pre-existing social relations, but often occur among strangers, thus in this respect Twitter may be more similar to traditional news media. We therefore hypothesize that negative news content is more likely to be retweeted, while for non-news tweets positive sentiments support virality. To test the hypothesis we analyze three corpora: A complete sample of tweets about the COP15 climate summit, a random sample of tweets, and a general text corpus including news. The latter allows us to train a classifier that can distinguish tweets that carry news and non-news information. We present evidence that negative sentiment enhances virality in the news segment, but not in the non-news segment. We conclude that the relation between affect and virality is more complex than expected based on the findings of Berger and Milkman (2010), in short 'if you want to be cited: Sweet talk your friends or serve bad news to the public'.
Article
This work analyzes the prevalence of words denoting prejudice in 27 million news and opinion articles written between 1970 and 2019 and published in 47 of the most popular news media outlets in the United States. Our results show that the frequency of words that denote specific prejudice types related to ethnicity, gender, sexual, and religious orientation has markedly increased within the 2010–2019 decade across most news media outlets. This phenomenon starts prior to, but appears to accelerate after, 2015. The frequency of prejudice-denoting words in news articles is not synchronous across all outlets, with the yearly prevalence of such words in some influential news media outlets being predictive of those words’ usage frequency in other outlets the following year. Increasing prevalence of prejudice-denoting words in news media discourse is often substantially correlated with U.S. public opinion survey data on growing perceptions of minorities’ mistreatment. Granger tests suggest that the prevalence of prejudice-denoting terms in news outlets might be predictive of shifts in public perceptions of prejudice severity in society for some, but not all, types of prejudice.
Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy
  • B Ungar-Sargon
Ungar-Sargon, B. (2021). Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy. Encounter Books
White Liberals Are Embracing Progressive Racial Politics and Transforming America
  • Matthew Yglesias
Yglesias, Matthew. 2019. White Liberals Are Embracing Progressive Racial Politics and Transforming America. Vox. March 22
Interactive Media Bias Chart
  • Andrew Mcgee
Andrew McGee. (2021). Interactive Media Bias Chart. Ad Fontes Media https://adfontesmedia.com/interactive-mediabias-chart/
The method rescales the range of the data to a scale between 0 and 1 using the formula shown in Figure 2 where y is the original frequency count for a given word and y' is its normalized/scaled value. Min-max scaling of frequency counts allows for comparison of minimum and maximum
  • Min-Max
Min-max scaling is a common way to normalize time series. The method rescales the range of the data to a scale between 0 and 1 using the formula shown in Figure 2 where y is the original frequency count for a given word and y' is its normalized/scaled value. Min-max scaling of frequency counts allows for comparison of minimum and maximum temporal prevalence across terms in the corpus irrespective of their absolute/relative frequencies ranges
The coddling of the American mind: How good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure
  • J Haidt
  • G Lukianoff
For academic books which explore the roots of this ideology see Kaufmann, E. (2018). Whiteshift: Populism, immigration and the future of white majorities. Penguin UK; Haidt, J., & Lukianoff, G. (2018). The coddling of the American mind: How good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure. Penguin UK
Concept creep: Psychology's expanding concepts of harm and pathology
  • N Haslam
  • D E Levari
  • D T Gilbert
  • T D Wilson
  • B Sievers
  • D M Amodio
  • T Wheatley
Haslam, N. (2016). Concept creep: Psychology's expanding concepts of harm and pathology. Psychological Inquiry, 27(1), 1-17. Levari, D. E., Gilbert, D. T., Wilson, T. D., Sievers, B., Amodio, D. M., & Wheatley, T. (2018). Prevalence-induced concept change in human judgment. Science, 360(6396), 1465-1467