N E W S • F R A M E S • • • • •

About media framing • (written by Brian Dean)

Government “hits” BBC

I_Newspaper_12_9_2013Sept 12, 2013 “Government hits BBC with threat of regulation” (today’s i headline). What’s the story here? Well, a government minister wants the National Audit Office (NAO) to scrutinise the VAST sums of PUBLIC MONEY paid in severance deals to BBC executives.

A few things you should know:

  • 1 in 10 prosecutions in the UK are for non-payment of TV licence.
  • Last year, 180,000 people got a criminal record for non-paid TV licence.
  • BBC execs got a total £60m payoff – equivalent to 412,000 licences.*
  • Some BBC execs got more than £1 million in severance deals.
  • Meanwhile, PRISON for many people who didn’t pay their £145 TV licence.

The_Daily_Telegraph_22_8_2013Now we know what it’s about, let’s return to that headline: “Government hits BBC with threat of regulation”. I’ve previously written about the “hits” metaphor (for direct causation), which seems to be common in headlines which contain abstract nouns and institutions-as-actors.

From today’s i headline, you might think the BBC was independent of government and currently relatively unregulated. And the idea that “regulation” is generally bad and threatening might be reinforced (any takers for unregulated cops/banks/corporations?). All of which seems ironic and darkly amusing to me, given what we know about the BBC.

Now that I’ve got you thinking about “hits” as news metaphor for direct causation, let me give you some more interesting examples…

Causal news frames**

News headlines often use direct causation metaphors to frame complex social issues. All such metaphors have their own logic, which is transferred from the physical realm of force to the more abstract social realms of institutions, politics, beliefs, etc. The effect is inescapably “reductive”, but not necessarily invalid (some metaphors – and their imported logics – are more appropriate than others). Here are some examples of such metaphorical causal expressions:

  • Public generosity hit by immigrant wave
  • 72% believe Iraq on path to democracy
  • Obama’s leadership brought the country out of despair
  • Majority fear Vietnam will fall to communism

Each of the causal logics here is different – for example, the notion that one country “falls” to communism, while another takes the right “path” (to democracy). Of “falling to communism”, Lakoff & Johnson remark (Philosophy in the Flesh, p172) that the ‘domino effect’ theory was used to justify going to war with Vietnam: when one country “falls”, the next will, and the next – unless force (military might) is applied to stop the “falling”. The metaphor of taking a “path” has very different political entailments. A nation might not even resemble a democracy, but if it chooses the “right path”, it “deserves” US military and economic “aid”, to help overcome any obstacles put in its “way”. (Incidentally, rightwing ideologues regard any “move” towards “free market” economics as taking the “path” to democracy).

The different types of causal logic resulting from each metaphor may seem obvious when spelt out like this. But the point is that the reasoning in each case is evoked automatically by the metaphorical frame; it takes effect without being spelt out, without being “made conscious”. Rather, the logic – including political inferences – is an entailment of a frame that’s simply activated by the language used.

* Some reports say that £396m total (in severance deals) was paid to BBC staff, with £25m going to its 150 top managers.

** I’ve copy-n-pasted most of this from an earlier long post. You probably don’t remember – even if you did read that far in the earlier post, which seems unlikely. And, hey, journalists get paid for recycling old, sloppy material. I do it for virtuous reasons.

Written by NewsFrames

September 12, 2013 at 2:33 pm

13 Responses

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  1. Hey, actually I did actually read and recall that older post which you recycled! I’ve no problem with that.

    And how about “Govt Hits Royal Mail with Privatisation” as a headline anyone?…


    September 12, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    • Thanks, man – it’s nice to know people are reading it, rather than just glancing out of curiosity (you can never tell from the site stats) 😉

      Yeah, I noticed the Royal Mail privatisation news. That’s something I think we’ve been “softened up” for, for a long time now. Daily Telegraph sub-head says: “the most ambitious privatisation for a generation and one that could anger postal workers.” Only postal workers?


      September 12, 2013 at 6:16 pm

      • Quite – the same article cites 70% public opposition to the sale!

        News Frames is always an interesting read btw. Keep up the good work, I say.


        September 12, 2013 at 6:34 pm

  2. The severence pay offs are absurd and frankly pretty disgusting. I happen to think the licence fee, to enable broadcasting without adverts, the building of a quality website like the bbc offers and it’s many services and offshots, is a great one – if only it was run in a manner that the ‘licence fee’ idea deserves.

    As for the jail terms, i.e “1 in 10 prosecutions in the UK are for non-payment of TV licence.” are equally as remarkable – if only tax avoiders and nimble dodgers (or should that be cheats / frauds) were met with the same force of law.

    On the Royal Mail – “Quite – the same article cites 70% public opposition to the sale! ” – If the actual figure is close to that (and I wouldn’t be surprised) then what a further sign of how flawed our ‘democracy’ is, all essentially undertaken by a government with less than 40% of the votes. Perhaps we’re well off the path and in ‘free fall’ to plutocracy…!

    (Also, I wonder on the stats point, you might find many people visit in the hope of a new post, don’t see one and then leave! As I’ve said before, keep up the good work, it’s appreciated by myself at least.)

    Mike Munners

    September 12, 2013 at 9:44 pm

  3. Ah, also forgot to mention the Student Loan sell off (in reference to the Royal Mail privatisation) that has not been met with as much press I thought it would deserve – http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jun/16/why-privatise-student-loans-andrew-mcgettigan

    Just imagine the profits for student loans in a few years when the tuition fees rocket up – some ‘lucky’ people will make a financial killing from that, I wonder if the interest rates for the loans will be allowed to creep above the national interest rates over time.

    Mike Munners

    September 12, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    • Thanks for that link. “Selling off loans” – the whole idea makes me think of rackets & gangsters.


      September 13, 2013 at 10:43 am

  4. I have a bee in my bonnet at the moment about the licence fee: on the one hand, I can’t think of a better way of funding the BBC; on the other, I have concerns about what the money goes on.
    Should a compulsory levy really be spent on Strictly Come Dancing, East Enders and The Voice? These are programs clearly intended to compete with the commercial sector (X Factor, Coronation Street); are an endless stream of grim crime dramas really a good use of this forced levy; what about less commercial things: Shakespeare, Chekhov, foreign language films? All of these have gone from a rich supply 30 years ago to an almost total absence now; so there are questions to be asked about how the money is spent–and how well the BBC Trust is getting on with its allocated task of representing the interests of licence payers.

    John Dakin

    September 18, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    • “Shakespeare, Chekhov, foreign language films? All of these have gone from a rich supply 30 years ago to an almost total absence now; so there are questions to be asked about how the money is spent–and how well the BBC Trust is getting on with its allocated task of representing the interests of licence payers”

      Unfortunately I’m pretty certain that Shakespeare and Chekhov aren’t really representing the interests of licence payers but rather a small percentage of aesthetes – try taking a representative poll on the number of licence payers who’d want their money go towards a new series of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, ‘Snog, Marry, Avoid’, ‘You’ve been scammed’, ‘Match Of The Day’ or a new series along the lines of ‘I Claudius’, it would probably make painful reading. At least there’s BBC4 and In Our Time..

      Mike Munners

      September 18, 2013 at 6:21 pm

      • Of course I don’t expect the BBC to put on only Shakespeare etc. but surely it isn’t too much to expect some Shakespeare, etc.
        I agree about “in Our Time”, and in my view, the best BBC stuff is on radio; but BBC Four has been disappointing: no classic drama or foreign films; BBC Knowledge was much better.
        I wonder what the viewing figures were like for the excellent “Hollow Crown”? Wass it really so unpopular as you imply?

        John Dakin

        September 19, 2013 at 1:36 pm

      • I’m on your side and I would love to see more Shakespeare etc but I think you follow my point. The fact that the BBC did show “Hollow Crown” only last year is proof that they do put on the shows you are after, even though they may not be as regularly as you’d like (there’s also talk of a follow up). I do think you might be being a tad harsh on BBC four but it’s all subjective.

        And as you ask for the viewing figures, here’s an interesting link: http://www.broadcastnow.co.uk/ratings/hollow-crown-ends-with-700k/5044631.article

        “BBC2’s epic run of William Shakespeare adaptations bowed out with its second lowest overnight audience on record.”

        And the figures for comparison:

        BBC1: Casualty – 9.20pm-10.10pm
        4.39m (21.6%)

        BBC2: The Hollow Crown – 8pm-10.15pm
        670k (3.43%)

        ITV: TV’s Biggest Blockbusters – 8.35pm-10.30pm
        2.03m (10.23%)

        C4: Date Night – 9pm-10.45pm
        1.41m (7.1%)

        C5: Big Brother – 9.10pm-10.10pm
        890k (4.4%)

        I do agree that the BBC shouldn’t just chase ratings and thankfully they do have a cultural remit and as a result produce and show some great things. Looking at the above figures, I’m absolutely astounded how Casualty still gets 4m + viewers!!

        FInally, I did spot this tomorrow night though in case you haven’t seen it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00fq2rs

        Mike Munners

        September 19, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    • I feel much the same way as John Dakin. It is my belief that the BBC should fulfil its role as a public sector organisation and cater mainly for minority interests and tastes that are just not being fulfilled by the private sphere on account of their low appeal to advertisers. Duplicating programmes that are already readily available on free to air channels seems unnecessary at best. Quality of content not quantity of viewers is the measure of its success.

      I’m also concerned at reports of the increasing use of partner organisations from abroad to co-fund and produce programmes. My concern is that the licence fee is being used to produce content aimed, at least in part, at other ‘markets’. The very least that the British licence fee payer can expect is that the BBC use the money to make programmes aimed exclusively at its own domestic viewers, I would have thought.


      September 18, 2013 at 7:33 pm

      • Well—these partnerships have been going on as long as I can remember; and sales of programs overseas is a big source of income for the BBC. I am merely asking for a shift in the balance, not a total abandonment of popular programs.

        John Dakin

        September 19, 2013 at 1:39 pm

  5. i don’t want to go on too long about this, but in the 70s “The Two Ronnies” and “The Generation Game” coexisted happily with classic drama; and it isn’t a case of “not as regularly as I’d like”; up until some point in the 80s, there was “Play of the Month”; 1 classic play every month; now there is no regular classic drama at all; also there are no foreign language films; yet we now have what we did not have in the 80s; a dedicated Arts Channel. Maybe Tony Hall will change this.

    John Dakin

    September 21, 2013 at 1:05 pm

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