Sunday, 12 January 2014

Benefits Street: Divide and rule TV

Much of our media has given up reporting situations objectively. At the same time, post-Leveson, they are moaning and griping about any curtailment of their freedom by government. Fair enough. A free press and media is essential in a democracy. The World Press Freedom Committee’s Charter for a Free Press outlines the means to a free press; arguing against censorship and for the independence of news.

What then happens when the press and broadcast media voluntarily jump into bed with governments because it suits their own political agendas? What happens then when they sell off their objective reporting and broadcasting of social issues in order to do the government’s bidding? What then happens to that fine sentiment: “A free press means a free people.”?

Rags such as the Daily Mail feel comfortable in running headlines like: ‘Vile Product of Welfare UK’ in condemnation of Mick Philpott after he was convicted of killing his children in a fire. Directly accusing our welfare state of somehow being complicit in this man’s crime, even fuelling his lifestyle.

Less than 0.5% of DLA claims are found to be incorrect, and this can be as a result of error on the part of the DWP as well as fraudulent claims. Yet the rapacious redtops, especially the Mail and Sun, are penning their poisonous propaganda as though the entire disabled population was cheating the system.
There is definitely a correlation between the rise in disability hate crime and the incessant misreporting of disability benefits fraud in the past few years. Many disabled people are frightened to go out in public due to the escalation in verbal abuse meted out to them by cranks who feed off the vilification and demonization of others.

Programmes such as ‘Benefits Street’ do not serve to inform in an objective way. No they set out to paint a one-sided picture of people living on benefits. Their agenda is to promote the ‘shirkers’ versus ‘strivers’ propaganda that endeavours to pit the working poor against the unemployed poor.

The new spin on the old ‘divide and rule’ politics moves the focus from government failings, including the criminal failings of the banking system and neo-liberal policies, onto communities that successive governments have ignored. Communities starved of investment in employment, education and housing are expected to fall into line overnight; and they’re expected to compete in a job market already crammed to overcapacity.

OK then, if the press and broadcast media have a charter that demands freedom against censorship; that demands that they have independence when reporting the news, then they must give us some guarantees.

1.    That they report issues objectively with balanced view points;
2.    That they endeavour to seek out the facts of the story without giving favour or grace to any one party; and
3.    That they hold government’s up to the naked light of public scrutiny instead of merely printing verbatim government press releases as news.

Freedom of speech is a precious gift that should be well guarded. However, with freedom of speech and reporting comes the obligation of truth and objectivity.  

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