Government “hits” BBC
Sept 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.
Now 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.
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