UK media coverage of artificial intelligence dominated by industry, and industry sources
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. 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.
- Nearly 60% of articles were focused on new industry products, announcements and initiatives that include AI, from smart phones or running shoes, to sex robots or brain preservation.
- Outlets also regularly covered industry promotional events, start-ups, buyouts, investments, and conferences.
- 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.
- 12% of articles referenced the technology entrepreneur, Elon Musk.
- 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.
- 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. “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,” Brennen said.