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Europe isn't worried about Brexit, major new study reveals

·Brussels correspondent
A newsagent in Italy shows how one paper reacted to the Brexit vote (Getty)
A newsagent in Italy shows how one paper reacted to the Brexit vote (Getty)

British people remain firmly divided over what Brexit will do to the UK, but Europe – it seems – isn’t too worried about how Britain’s imminent departure will impact the Continent.

That’s according to a major study on media coverage across Europe, which shows that – despite perceptions to the contrary – Brexit is not portrayed negatively across the EU.

Researchers from the Reuters Journalism Institute at Oxford University monitored print, digital and TV news in eight countries over six months to build a picture of how Brexit is being reported abroad.

They found that there is a huge interest in the process and that most of the coverage was fact-based and unbiased.

“Contrary to popular assumptions that news media are biased and opinionated, the study found that European Brexit coverage was predominantly fact-based,” the report says.

Graph showing the percentage of European media coverage that was biased (Oxford University)
Graph showing the percentage of European media coverage that was biased (Oxford University)

Of the 3,516 news items they analysed, some 78% were were neutral about Brexit.

Of the 22% that conveyed an opinion, 74% was anti-Brexit, 17% was mixed and 9% was pro-Brexit.

The researchers found notable national differences when it came to reporting Brexit.

The Spanish and Irish press are most hostile to Brexit, while their colleagues in Italy and France tend to take a more balanced view.

The French media were most likely to report Brexit as a challenging situation for Britain, while there were more concerns expressed about the future of the EU in Greece and Sweden.

Graph showing what view EU media is taking on Brexit (Oxford University)
Graph showing what view EU media is taking on Brexit (Oxford University)

Overall, they found a “general lack of anxiety” about the impact of Brexit on the EU.

On the content of articles, they found almost half were dedicated to covering the “progress and setbacks” in Brexit negotiations.

The rest of the coverage was dominated by economic, trade and businesses issues, with “little space” for more human stories, such as those on the rights of EU citizens living in Britain.

When it came to the key players, Theresa May was the most quoted person followed by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Chart showing what issues have been raised in European news coverage of Brexit (Oxford University)
Chart showing what issues have been raised in European news coverage of Brexit (Oxford University)

Conservative politicians dominated when it came to UK voices in the European media, with 12.4% of space, compared to just 3% for Labour and 0.3% for prominent Leave advocates like Nigel Farage.

Surprisingly, politicians from the EU countries barely featured in Brexit news items – even in their own countries.

The report said: “Politicians from other EU countries were rarely quoted on Brexit issues.

“This contrasts with the impression sometimes given in British media coverage that European politicians ‘meddle’ in British affairs.”

In the UK, a study in February looked into whether news outlets were viewed as partisan on the issue of Brexit by the public.

The Daily Mail and the Sun were most likely to be considered to be pro-Brexit, with 40% and 37% respectively identifying them as being in support of leaving the EU.

BBC News is seen as the second most anti-Brexit news source, at 27%, followed by The Independent on 23%.

Brexit bias? This is how the public think news outlets lean on Brexit (YouGov)
Brexit bias? This is how the public think news outlets lean on Brexit (YouGov)

But overall most Brits say they don’t know the stance of the major newspapers and websites.

Matthew Smith, a data scientist at YouGov, said: ‘This is not particularly surprising.

‘Despite what journalists may like to think, many people pay a very limited amount of attention to the news and then only from a limited number of sources, certainly not enough to have figured out the editorial stance of all national outlets.’


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