Is the media ignoring poverty?

September 16, 2008 at 7:51 am | Posted in British Politics, Media, Working Class Britain | 1 Comment
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We might not be having much success in making poverty history, but we can, at least, make sure no one has to read about it. That’s the conclusion of this Rowntree Foundation report that’s been generating a fair amount of chatter in recent days. To cut a long story short, the report finds that the media’s coverage of poverty in Britain leaves a lot to be desired, both in the amount of coverage it’s given and in the form this coverage takes. The report argues that if it’s even mentioned at all, the issue is covered casually, often as a way of talking about broader issues like crime, the economy and politics. ‘Real life’ depictions of poverty are almost always absent, and the poor are often represented in an unsympathetic light.

The report concludes that the media can and must do more to give poverty the high profile it deserves, and they’ve even produced a ‘practical guide’ of advice for journalists who end up being forced to write about it. It’s all very noble, well-intentioned & agreeable, of course, but I really don’t see how it’s going to make a blind bit of difference. As Peter Wilby notes, the unfortunate bottom line is that poverty isn’t going to sell newspapers and it’s not going to make great TV. Every editorial decision is also a business decision and it doesn’t make too much sense in the current climate to produce portrayals of deprivation at a time when most of the country is also suffering from hardship. Editors are beholden to their readers & their owners, not reports from well-meaning pressure groups.

However, it’s also true that the media is dependent on events, and uses them as a means of discussing broader social issues. The riots in Brixton & Toxteth provided the opportunity to highlight the deprivation in those communities, and the murder of Stephen Lawrence became a chance to discuss the problem of racism. So when Shannon Matthews was assumed to have been kidnapped and the nation’s media arrived, en masse, to the economically unhappy community of Dewsbury Moor, why wasn’t there more serious focus on the poverty kids like Shannon were growing up in, rather than the snobbish seething over her mother’s personal life?

There’s isn’t one sole, simple answer, but I think there might be some truth in Tom Clarke’s suggestion that social class, and the economic & cultural disparity between those who produce the media and those who receive it, may well be a contributing factor. If this is true, then we might assume that the media is unconsciously (and therefore uncritically) reflecting the increasing economic inequalities in Britain. If so, then perhaps it might be time to redirect a few foreign correspondents to report from our council estates.

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  1. […] year, I noted the Rowntree Foundation’s report that domestic poverty is a very low priority for the British media. Its news value is pitifully […]


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