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INTEREST in watching General Election campaign coverage on television reached a low this year, with 70 per cent of viewers reporting that they had little or no interest in the coverage, compared with 56 per cent saying the same for the 1997 coverage.
According to research published by the Independent Television Commission (ITC), Election 2001, 25 per cent of viewers said they ignored the coverage altogether, a significant increase from the six per cent saying the same thing in 1997. Viewers who actively tuned in for General Election coverage were more likely to be older, male and professional.
Although Party Election Broadcasts (PEBs) were unpopular viewing, there was support for the principle of showing them, with 63 per cent saying they were important and 67 per cent saying they helped raise public awareness of what the parties stood for. But 65 per cent believed PEBs had no influence on viewers' political allegiance, and 44 per cent thought they were too long.
However, television, especially news programmes, was named as people's main source of political information, cited by 41 per cent of respondents, compared with 15 per cent each for broadsheet and tabloid newspapers. For young people, the importance of television was notably higher – 82 per cent of 16-24 year olds said they were most likely to get their political information from this source.
Despite a lack of personal interest in the General Election coverage, Election 2001 showed an increase in satisfaction at the amount of coverage, with 33 per cent saying it was ‘about right’, compared with only 26 per cent for the 1997 coverage. But this was equalled by the 33 per cent who felt there was ‘far too much’. As in 1997, viewers felt that too much of the coverage had focused on the personalities of politicians, press conferences and walkabouts, and on results of opinion polls, rather than on the policies of the different parties.
No bias was identified on any individual channel towards a particular party, but a criticism which also arose in 1997 was that the major parties received too much coverage and minor ones too little – almost a third of respondents thought the Green Party did not receive enough coverage on BBC1 or ITV. (CD)

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