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About media framing • (written by Brian Dean)

Archive for the ‘I (Independent)’ Category

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

“News” = recycled clichés

News clichesOct 31, 2011 – This morning’s front pages present an arresting selection of news clichés

The Daily Express alerts us to a “CRISIS” in something, and a “BOOST” to pensions. The Express’s front page story is actually about an idea which is being “considered” (by the government).

“i” and the Belfast Telegraph go with “SHAKE-UP” (in education). I think we all know what that means.

The Daily Mail reports that the Church of England is at “WAR” with an ill-defined noun (“sleaze”). Slightly more interesting is the information that the church currently invests millions in Internet Service Providers.

The Mirror front page informs us that it’s “WAR” between the Prime Minister and Nick Clegg on Europe. (It’s not a trivial matter that the metaphor of armed conflict is commonly used on complex social and economic issues which have little to do with armed conflict. More on this when I discuss the “war” metaphor in a future piece).

The Evening Standard tells us that somebody important “HAILS” “women power”; the Wall Street Journal reports that a “SHAKY OUTLOOK lingers in Europe”. (If you have a photo of a lingering shaky outlook, please email it to me immediately).

The Telegraph lets us know that some money from somewhere will be used to “KICK-START” the economy; The Times reports that David Cameron is seeking “RADICAL REFORM” on something-or-other.

The Scotsman headlines with the story that charities are being “HIT” by a “CASH SQUEEZE”. (See my previous comments on media use of the “hit” metaphor).

To Summarise:

Shake-up in education, shaky outlook in Europe, war between church and sleaze, war between Cameron and Clegg, a hypothetical “crisis fund” to boost pensions, a bit of money to kick-start the economy, charities hit by cash squeeze, Cameron (when he’s not at war) seeks radical reform on adoption, and the Queen hails women power.

All in all, a rich collection of headline bullshit.

Written by NewsFrames

October 31, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Stupid economic metaphors

Stupid economic metaphorsSept 23, 2011 – Today’s Daily Mail headline uses David Cameron’s ‘economics-as-shotgun’ metaphor. ‘i’ goes with “Global slump” – as if everyone on the planet simultaneously collapsed onto the sofa.

On last night’s Question Time (BBC1), Vince Cable talked about the economy with the phrases “on a tightrope” (twice), and “very dangerous world” (twice). By “world” he meant the abstraction known as the “global economy”.

An audience member on Question Time queried the premise that economic “growth” was necessary. Harriet Harman responded by saying the deficit can’t be cut “if the economy is flatlining”. She didn’t expand on this. So, we have the “growth” metaphor answered with a medical metaphor (for clinical death). Is it surprising that people are confused about economics?

Of course, we need abstractions and metaphors in order to discuss conceptually-complex issues. But what’s evident from last night’s Question Time, and this morning’s newspaper coverage, is that very little but a series of vague, conflicting economic metaphors (representing “conventional wisdom”) gets spoken. Meanwhile, what are we to make of the claim of expert economist, Professor Paul Ormerod, that: “as the twentieth century draws to a close the dominant tendency in economic policy is still governed by a system of analysis inspired by the engineers and scientists of the Victorian era”. (Ormerod, The Death of Economics).

Ormerod explains how a Victorian metaphorical worldview underlies the model of competitive equilibrium which provides much of the rationale for implementing “free-market solutions” to all economic “problems” (an ideological approach which has been dominant in the UK and US since the early 1980s).

One gets the sense that it’s the map, rather than the territory, which is fucked (or “flatlining” or on a tightrope, or staring down a gun-barrel, etc) in the case of economics. And that, in itself, can lead to unfortunate (or even tragic) consequences for the territory.

Meanwhile, the world still has pretty much all the stuff it had last month. And there hasn’t been any sudden global population explosion in the past few weeks. And valid questions on real resources, environmental issues, etc, tend to be framed separately from the “economic crisis” – in “public” (ie media/political) debate at least – compartmentalisation and specialisation.

Alternative headlines:

Written by NewsFrames

September 23, 2011 at 10:27 am

The new “unconscious” (part 2)

The new "unconscious"Sept 7, 2011 – Today’s ‘i’ headline (on 3 separate stories – hacking, MPs’ expenses, policing) consists of an abstraction and a metaphor. But it points to a “reality” of sorts – courtesy of frames in our brains.

“All of our knowledge and beliefs are framed in terms of a conceptual system that resides mostly in the cognitive unconscious”.

This quote is from a book on cognitive science which I’ll be making much use of: Philosophy in the Flesh, by Lakoff & Johnson. Much of it doesn’t seem new, as it uses familiar words: “unconscious”, “frame”, etc. But don’t be fooled by the familiarity.

From the Western philosophical tradition, we’ve inherited a “faculty” theory of reason, which holds that reason is a separate faculty in its own right – separate from sense-perception, etc. This is supposedly what makes us “human”. Cognitive science has shown this to be false. To give one example, our fundamental concept of causality is shaped – shaped – by the fact we have muscles which we use to exert force.

We don’t, and can’t, have full control of the categories we use in our reasoning. Although we learn new categories, we can’t consciously make major changes to the main category systems forming our “cognitive unconscious”. Much of what we regard as conceptual inference is built from basic metaphors arising from sensorimotor inference (eg the stuff that goes on in our nervous systems as we swing through the trees looking for bananas).

Yeah, but what does this have to do with the malign nonsense written by Daily Mail assholes?

Patience – we’re not in Kansas any more…

To be continued…

Written by NewsFrames

September 7, 2011 at 10:19 am