February 12, 2019
Is Brexit the latest topic in America’s media fascination with Britain?Contact
The amount of times we have heard, seen, and said the word Brexit throughout the first month of 2019 is far beyond the point of being able to count it on two hands. The UK public are barely able to escape a Brexit media bombardment: every morning we are fed the Metro and evening the Evening Standard — with coverage of Brexit printed nearly every single time.
The UK has become so accustomed to hearing about Brexit through the media, it would be unusual if its split from the European Union was not mentioned at least once during the morning and evening news. And when there is a new update on the proceedings, it is likely the news will unfold in front of our eyes, be in the home, office or pub.
As an intern at Instinctif Partners coming from the states, media coverage of Brexit in America has been in a constant swinging pendulum, top of the list for foreign news one day, quickly forgotten the next. Unlike in the UK, the US tends to disregard most foreign news on a daily basis, instead keeping us updated on Trump’s latest Tweet.
Although the US does poorly on covering news from almost every other country, the US media has been paying noticeably more attention to the unfolding of Brexit. A recent Wall Street Journal article even talks about what will happen to the travels of the UK’s dogs, cats, and ferrets if the Brexit withdrawal agreement is not approved: For Many British Pets After A No-Deal Brexit: Staycations.
A January 2018 study conducted by the Pew Research Center indicates that 84% of Americans with higher education are interested in news about Great Britain. Yet the media continues to focus heavily on US domestic news. A study by Aalberg et al. sampled data from 11 countries with different media systems to investigate the “supply, demand, and the consequences of international television news”, finding that “US broadcasters devote 14 percent of their evening news bulletins to international events while 86 percent focus on domestic stories.”
But while the foreign affairs of very few nations make news in America, the UK bucks the trend. I can attest to this trend but, having grown up in the states, I have always noticed the exceptional difference between coverage of hard news and coverage of soft news from the UK by the US media.
For the US media, hard news is almost entirely domestic, with recent Brexit coverage a rare exception. However, soft news from the UK is much more frequent. From British television shows such as Downton Abbey, and obsessional updates on the royal family, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, to the rapidly increasing American watchtime of Premier League Football — the American interest in the UK is evident from these cultural indulgences. Many in the US frequently turn to the Daily Mail for their go-to gossip news and there is even a television version of the Daily Mail airing in the US.
Americans have long been obsessed with British culture, as we have seen through the Beatles’ 1960s takeover in the US and the way the royal family is essentially being glamorized in a soap opera-esque way — evident through the Netflix show “The Crown.” It could be the love of the English accent, or it could be the belief that everywhere in England is an exact replica of the Mary Poppins movie, but the American fascination with the UK continues with no end, and the media recognizes this and feeds off of it through their tireless soft news coverage.
This imbalance of coverage of hard news versus soft news about the UK within the US media continues to perplex — if the US media is so engrossed by the British culture as well as celebrities’ and the royals’ daily ongoings, why not devote more news time to covering foreign news from the UK that is of true importance? While the American media’s current focus on the Brexit proceedings may seem unusual in its deviation from domestic hard news, the fascination in fact highlights the solipsism of the US media. Perhaps Brexit is a rare outlier in US news coverage, an exception that proves the rule of an inwardly focused American media. Or then again, is the American media coverage more selfishly motivated, concerned chiefly on how the split from the European Union would impact the US?