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About media framing • (written by Brian Dean)

Archive for August 2011

How “work” is framed


Aug 31, 2011 – There are two frames for work: obedience and exchange (as identified by the cognitive scientist George Lakoff). In the work-as-obedience frame, there’s an authority (the employer) and there’s obedience to the commands of authority (ie work). This obedience is rewarded (pay).

In the work-as-exchange frame, work is conceptualised as an object of value which belongs to the worker. This is exchanged for money.

Different consequences apply depending on the type of framing. In the obedience frame, the worker is expected to make personal sacrifices to the employer. This may help to explain why, each year, workers are giving £29 billion in total unpaid overtime to their companies (according to TUC figures).

(Consider also that the average worker spends 139 hours a year commuting – another sacrifice).

Remember that frames function “below” consciousness, according to the cognitive scientists. Why do people tolerate a situation in which income is dependent on obedience (to people they might regard as idiots)? Perhaps it’s because our upbringing results (in most cases) in the work-as-obedience frame being a familiar part of our neurology (consider the paternal representation of school/employer).

In adulthood, this work frame infantilises us, and it’s reinforced by the paternal-strictness type of attacks on the unemployed from politicians and media. Terms such as “workshy” and “scrounger” don’t suggest people aged 45+ who have lost their jobs.

* Note: the above Express front page isn’t today’s – it’s from our archives, 16/8/10.

Written by NewsFrames

August 31, 2011 at 3:02 pm

If the headline is big enough…

Another headline on high pay in public sectorAug 30, 2011 – The title of today’s entry is from Citizen Kane: “If the headline is big enough, it makes the news big enough!”

Not that high pay in the public sector isn’t a valid news story. One wonders, though, when three newspapers (Express, Mail, Telegraph) all lead with stories on public-sector pay (over the course of 6 days) – particularly given the other newsworthy situations occurring on the planet.

The Telegraph quotes a Tory politician: “Ordinary people will be outraged that bonuses are being paid at all in the public sector…”. Compare the quote from another Tory in the Mail’s front-page coverage of a similar story, five days ago: “…this sort of generosity would not be found in the private sector”.

An interesting topic for academic study would be the timing of news stories. Why are we supposed to be thinking, right now, about high pay in the public sector? Why did the MPs’ expenses scandal get reported just when public outrage over the bail-out of banks was peaking? Without empirical studies, we’re left with useless speculation, “conspiracy theory” and Citizen Kane. Fnord.

Written by NewsFrames

August 30, 2011 at 9:06 am

“War” on “scroungers”

"War" on "scroungers"Aug 28, 2011 – Regarding this familiar frame (‘Workers vs Scroungers’) the Express informs us that:

  • The number of “scroungers” has doubled “since the recession”.
  • The number of young “scroungers” has trebled “since 2008”.
  • A quarter of hardcore “scroungers” are “aged over 50”. (100,000 of whom lost their jobs at the start of the economic crisis).

That tells us something about the term “scroungers”.

What the Express describes as a “war” against “scroungers” in fact consists of proposals by the (no doubt) well-meaning IPPR, a “Labour-leaning think-tank” – to get the long-term unemployed into jobs. The IPPR says: “…we need as many people in work to maximise tax revenues. The Government should be aiming to increase the employment rate…”

We can separate the IPPR’s bizarre notions from the malign framing of the Express – but only to a degree. They both seem to frame work/jobs in ideological terms, although it’s less obvious with the IPPR. Does tax revenue need to come from created/subsidised human labour, rather than from, say, the currently untaxed zillions made with virtually zero labour in international finance (eg currency markets)?

(Note: the real “war” on the unemployed was revealed earlier this year in a Guardian report).

Alternative headlines:

Written by NewsFrames

August 28, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Express, Headlines, Jobs

PFI “rip-off”

PFI "rip-off"Aug 27, 2011 – Given last week’s Treasury select committee report (pdf) condemning PFIs, this should’ve been a national headline. According to treasury figures, taxpayers will spend £229 billion on PFI projects that cost contractors only £56 billion.

From today’s Yorkshire Post front page (our bold emphasis):

“MORE than £4bn-worth of huge public works projects are to be signed off by Yorkshire’s local authorities this year using a now-discredited financing system despite condemnation from MPs who say taxpayers are being “ripped off”.

“Treasury figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show the region already owes more than £6bn for schemes funded via the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), a Government-backed way of using private firms to build and run public buildings […]

“Last week a hard-hitting report by the Treasury select committee concluded PFI deals offer “poor value for money” and can typically cost up to 40 per cent more than if they been funded with normal public borrowing. Successive Governments now stand accused of “cooking the books” by using PFI to keep major new infrastructure projects off their balance sheet, so artificially reducing official debt figures – all the time knowing it would ultimately cost taxpayers billions of pounds more.”

Written by NewsFrames

August 27, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Posted in Local press, Rip-offs

“Business groups” / “red tape”

Business groups & red tapeAug 26, 2011 – We’ve seen this headline story many times before. It’s a template containing the elements of a complex frame:

1. Imposed EU regulations
2. Obstacles to ‘British’ business growth
3. Huge costs (for firms)
4. “Business groups” to the rescue

The “business groups” get a lot of space. The Telegraph quotes the British Chambers of Commerce and The Institute of Directors. The former says that unless the government “reduces this kind of red tape” it could “end up derailing the recovery”. The latter says the legislation has “very high costs for business” and is “wholly inappropriate in the current economic climate.”

Factual details may be misreported, or not. More important is the construct, the reinforcement of a particular cognitive script, and what it excludes.

Absent frames:

Written by NewsFrames

August 26, 2011 at 8:44 am

“State fat cats”

State fat catsAug 25, 2011 – It almost looks like a Mail-Express double-act (see yesterday’s Express). The framing in both cases seems to be provided by the rightwing pressure group, The TaxPayers’ Alliance (both Mail and Express quoted TPA). The “state” (and its “fat cats”) in this case refers to Quangos. “Quango” was originally an acronym for ‘QUasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisation’. The idea was that they would not be a formal part of the state structure – it brought “private sector” framing (and ideology) into the public realm.

Widespread waste, bureaucracy, corruption, etc, followed. It’s now been successfully reframed as “state”.

The Mail story segues smoothly from “state fat cats” to “generous” redundancy payments for public sector workers. It then quotes a Tory politician: “this sort of generosity would not be found in the private sector”, and a TaxPayers’ Alliance spokesperson: “Most taxpayers could only dream of such a generous redundancy.”

Not all quangos (or “public bodies”) are equally wasteful and corrupt. For those who have the time, there is much more to this story. See, as a starting point, Britain’s Shock Doctrine.

Alternative headlines:

Written by NewsFrames

August 25, 2011 at 8:36 am

Private vs public sector

Daily Express Aug 24, 2011Aug 24, 2011 – The latest surreal installment in Operation Daily Express Mindfuck. “Hard-pressed workers in the private sector” now have a focus for their feelings of anger and frustration (which are understandable given the long hours, low pay, poor conditions, poor benefits, poor holiday entitlement, idiot bosses, soul-crippling corporate ideology, etc).

“Millions” of them can now feel “infuriated” at their fellow hard-pressed workers in the public sector who apparently don’t have the “curbs on their pay” that private sector workers have.

Where is all the taxpayer money going? The Express reveals the “infuriating” truth: public sector workers will continue to receive “annual ‘increments’ – salary increases given to recognise the length of a worker’s service”.

The private sector, on the other hand, is responsibly exercising “restraint”, by putting “curbs” on workers’ pay. The quīnta essentia of bullshit.

Written by NewsFrames

August 24, 2011 at 7:53 am