By stewartb

I’m obliged to Peter A. Bell for the alert to an article published on 10 June by the UK Constitutional Law Association (UKLA).

Sources:

G. Davies and D. Wincott, ‘Brexit, the press and the territorial constitution’, U.K. Const. L. Blog (10th June 2020) (https://ukconstitutionallaw.org/)

On the subject of four major court judgments made after the 2016 EU referendum, the Davies and Wincott examine the volumes of media coverage in publications in each of the four UK nations. Using quantitative content and thematic analyses, they examined the coverage of these judgments in newspapers in England (Daily Mail, Independent), Scotland (Herald, Scotsman), Northern Ireland (Belfast Telegraph, Irish News) and Wales (Western Mail, Daily Post).

They also remark in general on the pandemic: “Throughout this crisis, many media outlets have displayed a marked inability to distinguish between English and devolved governance, resulting in much confusion. These tendencies, however, are not confined to the present circumstances.”

I feel that many associated with the TuSC might conclude that the last sentence states the ‘bl…dy obvious’! Notwithstanding this, it’s worth looking a little more closely at the article.

The authors acknowledge that the media “performs a powerful role in shaping constitutional discourses. They act as gatekeepers’, deciding which political events are reported, the actors and decisions involved, and the sources chosen for comment. With these choices and the framing of events, the media actively shapes the political agenda for constitutional reform.”  Now there is another startling revelation for those of us in Scotland!

Having experienced the ‘British’ and ‘Unionist’ dominance of the media, the following characterisation (with my REMARKS) strikes me as ‘problematic’ to say the least: “Talk of the British press’ is common, but where is it? (ALMOST EVERYWHERE IN SCOTLAND) Research has frequently shown the Anglo-centric tendencies (‘ENGLAND AS UK’ TENDENCIES) of the major London outlets, wherein politics beyond Westminster are considered a niche interest’ (a mindset all too apparent in coverage of the current crisis). Meanwhile, Scotland and NI have several indigenous publications (I’D NEED EVIDENCE OF ‘SIGNIFICANCE’), as well as their own editions of several London-based titles (IMPORTING A BRITISH/UNION-CENTRIC POLITICAL AGENDA), with a stronger territorial focus. Wales has a much weaker media, though grassroots platforms are challenging this condition (NO CHALLENGE IN SCOTLAND – SURELY YES!).

The authors examine media coverage of the following four cases:

  • ‘Miller I’ – where the UK Supreme Court ruled (a) that an Act of Parliament was required for the UK government to ‘trigger’ the process of leaving the EU; and (b) it held that the ‘Sewel Convention’ was non-justiciable
  • Buick’ – where the High Court of Northern Ireland ruled that civil servants in NI did not have the power to take certain decisions in the absence of a minister
  • ‘Wightman’ – where the CJEU ruled that the UK was free to unilaterally withdraw the notification of withdrawal from the EU and ‘cancel’ Brexit
  • ‘Continuity Bill’ – where the UKSC held that legislation enacted by the Scottish Parliament to prepare for EU withdrawal mostly fell outside of its law-making competence as a result of subsequent changes to Scottish competences made by the UK government’s European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.

They find that coverage of the judgments across the four countries of the UK varied dramatically. Miller was overwhelmingly the most reported decision (115 reports), accounting for more than two thirds of the articles sampled. It was followed by Wightman (27 reports), Buick (20 reports) and, notably the least covered, the Continuity Bill judgment (7 reports). However, it’s when these data are broken down by ‘nation’ that things become more interesting!

Coverage of the Buick and Continuity Bill cases were each restricted to one nation. However, the number of articles published in Northern Ireland on Buick was more than double the number of articles on the Continuity Bill published in Scotland. And we can only surmise the framing adopted by the newspapers in Scotland given the role they have chosen to play (in the words of the authors) “in shaping constitutional discourses”.