Reassuringly the troubles of Afghanistan are concerning the media more than celebrity stories like Katie Price and Peter Andre

Despite claims that the media is dumbing down, it appears that UK news still focuses on serious issues. Research commissioned by PRmoment comparing UK online coverage of Afghanistan with Katie Price and Peter Andre in the last six weeks, showed that Afghanistan was covered 91 per cent compared to Andre/Price’s 9 per cent.

Research supplied by Echo Sonar

The Afghanistan conflict is in the news as the death toll of British troops continues to rise past 200. Afghanistan is also being mentioned because of the presidential elections which are causing violence to erupt in the Afghan capital, Kabul. According to our research, by far the most common subject of stories about the conflict concerns the worrying death toll. This is mentioned more than twice as often as news concerning the Taliban.

The charity ActionAid is currently working in Afghanistan, where it aims to help the poorest and most excluded people to have a say in the country’s future. Looking at coverage of Afghanistan in the media, Tony Durham, a media officer at ActionAid says that there is obviously a lot of information about Afghanistan out there, the question is whether the right messages are getting across. He adds: "There are so many depressing stories about suicide bombings, allied casualties and flaws in the election process that it is easy to overlook the hopeful stories, about the brave women candidates, for example. I'm trying to decide whether the overwhelming pessimism reflects reality or is simply the result of the fact that journalists always look for trouble."

Research supplied by Echo Sonar

Compared to news about Afghanistan, trivial celebrity gossip about Andre and Price appears to be of relatively little interest to many British online journalists. Price’s PR team should be pleased, however, that she is mentioned 4,261 times compared with Peter’s 2,492 mentions (plus ‘Jordan’ is mentioned a further 1,099 times). The news of the Andre/Price split appears to be dominating celebrity coverage at the moment, eclipsing even the saga of Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Nick Rines, partner at MR communications, works with celebrity clients and has been following the stories. He says the Aniston/Pitt /Jolie stories have run for years, “based on poor Aniston not being able to reconcile herself to losing Pitt, being able to find a replacement partner and therefore have children while her biological clock runs ever faster.” Rines believes Aniston has worked at stopping negative stories by frequently wearing the same clothes in public in order to stop photographic coverage, as the same clothes make it look like the pictures are not new.

Talking of Andre/Price, Rines says: “With Price and Andre both committed to utilising the media, this story will run for the foreseeable future. And like Aniston, Andre will always be seen to be the loser. He will inevitably be positioned as not ‘carrying the babies’. Even if he does manage to find a long-term partner and start a new family it will be depicted as a poor look-alike of the real thing. Expect this story to run for years.”

Comparing celebrity gossip to current affairs, Rines says that the situation in Afghanistan has completely different dynamics: “The human-interest stories will always attract media attention among all reader and viewer groups, but even broadsheet readers will struggle with the strategic story. How many Telegraph readers know what ISAF [Nato's International Security Assistance Force] is? The Price/ Andre saga will continue to be refreshed even if the material appears the same. Coverage of the war in Afghanistan will degenerate like the war itself into one based on political miscalculation and separate human interest stories.”

Research supplied by Echo Sonar

The reasons that people are fascinated by celebrity news are obviously complex, and this is one subject that interests those who study how people think. At brainblogger.com, Jennifer Gibson, a freelance medical writer, describes how scientific research has defined the desire to worship celebrities. She writes; “One study of 372 participants examined celebrity worship, personality, coping style, general health, stress, positive and negative affect, and life satisfaction. The researchers concluded that celebrity worship is associated with poorer mental health, illustrated by characteristics of neuroticism and disengagement.”

Of course, celebrity worship is not all bad, but people should always be admired, ideally, for the right reasons. The soldiers fighting in Afghanistan have much more to teach us than Andre and Price. As Gibson sums up: “We should admire those who are famous because they are great, not those who seem great because they are famous.”

 

Methodology

PRmoment asked Echo Sonar to compare UK online media coverage of Katie Price and Peter Andre with that of Afghanistan. The research period was 1 July to 16 August. Metrics included share of voice and volume of media topics.