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UK media coverage of AI dominated by industry and industry sources

UK media coverage of AI dominated by industry and industry sources
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UK media coverage of artificial intelligence is dominated by industry products, announcements and research, according to a new study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University.

Coverage frequently amplifies self-interested assertions of AI’s value and potential, while positioning AI primarily as a private commercial concern and undercutting the role of public action in addressing AI.

The factsheet, 'An Industry-Led Debate: How UK Media Cover Artificial Intelligence', is based on an analysis of eight months of reporting on AI, in six mainstream UK news outlets.

Key findings:

1. Nearly 60% of articles were focused on new industry products, announcements and initiatives that include AI, from smartphones or running shoes to sex robots or brain preservation. 

2. Outlets also regularly covered industry promotional events, startups, buyouts, investments and conferences.

3. One third (33%) of articles were based on industry sources – mostly CEOs or other senior executives – six times as many as those from government and nearly twice as many as those from academia. 

4. 12% of articles referenced the technology entrepreneur Elon Musk.

5. AI products are often portrayed as a relevant and competent solution to a range of public problems, from cancer and renewable energy to coffee delivery. Journalists or commentators rarely question whether AI-containing technologies are the best solutions to such problems or acknowledge ongoing debates concerning AI’s potential effects.

6. Media coverage of AI is being politicised: right-leaning news outlets highlight issues of economics and geopolitics; left-leaning news outlets highlight issues of ethics, including discrimination, algorithmic bias and privacy.

The report’s lead author, J Scott Brennen, said AI coverage has been developing against a background of economic disruption in the media industry, with cuts to speciality reporting, including science and technology journalism. He said: 'Despite these challenges, mainstream news outlets remain a key space for, and influence on, public discussion.

'However, by amplifying industry’s self-interested claims about AI, media coverage presents AI as a solution to a range of problems that will disrupt nearly all areas of our lives, often without acknowledging ongoing debates concerning AI’s potential effects. In this way, coverage also positions AI mostly as a private commercial concern and undercuts the role and potential of public action in addressing this emerging public issue.'

The findings derive from a systematic analysis of 760 news, features and commentary articles produced in the first eight months of 2018 by six mainstream UK news outlets. The outlets were selected to represent a variety of political leanings and a mix of legacy and digital-born outlets. Those outlets were: The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail/Mail Online, The Guardian, HuffPost, the BBC, and WIRED UK.

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