GUMG contributed significantly to the evolution of public policy on TV news broadcasting, to how broadcasting companies re-thought the relation between straight reporting and editorializing, and to changes in the training of news broadcasters.
Initial financial support came from a grant from the then Social Science Research Council, continued later by funding from the Economic and Social Research Council, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, UNESCO and others.
The first work by GUMG focused on TV news coverage of industrial relations, then a matter of national controversy. The BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority were statutorily under obligation to be impartial in news reporting. In the early 1970s, the Left wing of British politics believed news coverage to be biased against the unions, while to the Right the conviction was that television was left-wing in orientation. The broadcasting organizations were unsure where the lines should be drawn between factual reporting and editorial comment and analysis.
In 1974, the Labour Government set up a Committee of Inquiry into the future of broadcasting under Lord Annan, who reported in 1977. The Glasgow group submitted evidence to the Annan Committee, providing preliminary findings from their SSRC-funded research: their first major output, Bad News (1976) was made available.
Using the recently available videotape facility, the Group was able to video all news bulletins on three channels over a 5-month period in 1975. These were subjected to a detailed content analysis, enabling the comparison of reporting by different channels or by the same channel over successive bulletins.
This initial work laid the basis of a research methodology which evolved and was extended into other areas of national and social policy such as defence and disarmament, the Falklands conflict, famine, AIDS, the Gulf War and the Israeli-Palestine conflict. These innovations in skills and research method led to requests for advice from researchers in other countries, leading to similar work on how news information is organized and the implicit and explicit explanations that are put before the audience.
This work ‘permeated deeply into the consciousness of the general public, even down to influencing the way some of the BBC’s own news trainees based their appreciation of its news coverage’ and was increasingly used in the training of TV journalists.
Two major issues were addressed: (1) while broadcasters were not guilty of deliberate or calculated bias there were problems with the reporting, not just the failure to reveal the complexity of issues in industrial disputes but more generally in not adequately presenting a picture of industrial and commercial life in the UK ��" the issues had not been properly thought through: (2) the extent to which broadcasters themselves set the agenda: This raised further questions about the production process (how the linguistic and visual materials were handled) and reception (how the audiences responded to the news).