N E W S • F R A M E S • • • • •

About media framing • (written by Brian Dean)

Archive for the ‘Telegraph’ Category

The ever-popular “war on workshy” frame

Oct 8, 2012 – Today’s Express headline concerns the “WAR ON WORKSHY”. I first became aware of this “war” back in 1998, when the following headlines screamed at me (on March 27th, 1998):

“WELFARE WAR ON WORKSHY” (Daily Mail)
“BLAIR IN WELFARE WAR ON THE IDLE” (Daily Telegraph)
“SHAKE-UP IN WELFARE HITS THE WORKSHY” (The Times)
“THOU SHALT NOT SHIRK” (The Express)

I was unemployed at the time, and I took it personally – it seemed like a war on me. It also struck me as being political and journalistic bovine excreta. The same media had just reported the lowest official unemployed count for 18 years (given as 1,383,800 in The Daily Telegraph, 19/3/98). Government figures showed that only 5% of welfare expenditure went on the unemployed, including benefit fraud. (The percentage is pretty much the same today – see my earlier post).

As Larry Elliott (Guardian’s economics editor) put it at the time:

“..ministers should stop conniving in the fallacy that the welfare state is in a terminal crisis when it palpably is not…What is not legitimate is to pretend that welfare is a luxury Britain cannot afford”.
(Larry Elliott, The Guardian, 19/1/98)

It’s all déjà vu for me. We were in a “terrible crisis” then, and we’re in a “terrible crisis” now. And we’re encouraged to think about this crisis – repeatedly – in terms of a war between “hard-working families” and “workshy scroungers”. Or, as today’s Express puts it:

Senior Tories believe the move will be popular with millions of hard-working families who are fed up with workshy scroungers ripping off the benefits system. (Express, October 8, 2012)

This frame tends to exclude the thoughts: 1) that large numbers of “hard-working families” are themselves dependent on various benefits (since the market often doesn’t pay a survival/living wage), and 2) that many of those “hard-working families” will eventually find themselves unemployed (at which point they land in the “workshy scrounger” category – until they can find another job).

After decades of relentless tabloid attacks on the unemployed, the cited Tories are probably right – in a sense – about the “popularity” of the proposed welfare cuts. Because the “real” war is in the framing, and the Framing Wars are currently being won by the rightwing press (which, as noted recently by George Monbiot, gets much of its editorial content direct from neoliberal thinktanks). We see an indication of the success of this framing (in shaping people’s thinking) from the 2012 British Social Attitudes survey, which reports that:

62% agree that unemployment benefits are too high and discourage work, more than double the proportion who thought this in 1991 (27%)

So, don’t think about the trillion pounds spent bailing out the banks, or the $21 trillion stashed in tax havens by the tax-avoiding super-rich, etc – those are separate, different news compartments. Focus your anger on the unemployed people. The frames in your head tell you they deserve it.

Alternative headlines:
‘WAR ON YOUNG & OLD & VULNERABLE’
‘WAR IS PEACE, WORK IS MANDATORY’
‘BANKS BAILED OUT BY SLAVE LABOUR’
‘ANOTHER SUCCESSFUL ANGER-REDIRECT HEADLINE’

◊ Read more about the metaphorical framing of welfare here and here,
– and more about the framing of work here & here.

Written by NewsFrames

October 8, 2012 at 8:52 am

Welfare “criminals”

Welfare "criminals"Dec 28, 2011 – Today’s Express front page reports that 33% of JobSeeker’s Allowance recipients have “records of offending” in the last five years. The Sun and Telegraph also covered this story under the blunt headings: “One in three on dole is a criminal”; “Third of unemployed are convicted criminals”.

The figures reportedly come from a “data sharing agreement between the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice”, but at the time of writing, neither DWP nor MoJ appear to have this finding on their websites. [See update, below*]

Predictably, the rightwing TaxPayers’ Alliance (so-called) is quoted by the Express. Robert Oxley (TPA campaign manager) says: “The minority who split their days between claiming benefits and getting rich from the proceeds of crime are giving those who fall on hard times a bad name”. Of course, there’s no indication that the crimes involved made anyone “rich” – after all, we’re not talking about Goldman Sachs here.

(For example, poor people receive criminal records for watching TV without a licence. I don’t see anyone getting rich from that “crime”.)

Not that the details matter to the hard-right ideologues at the Express, Telegraph, Sun and TaxPayers’ Alliance. What matters for them is that welfare is framed as “criminal” and immoral. What matters to them is that public anger is directed away from the wealthy beneficiaries of public misery, and towards “criminals” and people receiving benefits. And if the distinction between “criminals” and people receiving benefits is blurred, that’s viewed as a bonus.

* Update – This story has also been covered by the Daily Mail, Mirror, Star, Metro and Times, but the “government study” on which it’s based remains unavailable – which means it’s difficult to check the figures, and to put them into context. One aspect of context is statistical comparison – for example, 1 in 4 US adults has a criminal record (according to Yahoo! News), the same ratio that the Express cites for all out-of-work UK benefits recipients. It would be interesting to see what proportion of Express journalists has a criminal record.

Alternative headlines:
• ‘BENEFITS RECIPIENTS ROUTINELY CRIMINALISED’
• ‘WAR IS PEACE, WORK IS MANDATORY’
• ‘JOBLESS PUNISHED BY SHAME & EARLY DEATH’

Written by NewsFrames

December 28, 2011 at 2:11 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

How not to frame “workers”

How not to frame "workers"Oct 26, 2011 – Today’s Telegraph front page provides an example of the socially-dominant “worker” frame. The headline contains the first clue: “Give firms freedom to sack their slackers”. (This is the “finding” of a “report” commissioned by David Cameron – see update*). The Telegraph explains:

‘Under current regulations, workers are allowed to “coast along” and employers are left fearful of expanding because new staff may prove “unknown quantities” who are impossible to sack, the report says.’

Here’s the frame in a nutshell:

  • “Free market” means firms are free to manage their own resources.
  • Resources are acquired and disposed of – in a way which minimises costs, maximises “efficiency”, etc.
  • Labour is just another resource (as in “labour market”).

“Workers are resources”

Hidden by this metaphorical frame is the human experience of working in a job, and the distinction between meaningful activity and dehumanising work (not to mention work which physically harms). Orthodox economics of both right and left “treat labor as a natural resource or commodity, on a par with raw materials, and speak in the same terms of its cost and supply” (Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By). Workers’ rights movements have fought against exploitation of workers (with some important successes) but have tended to implicitly accept this economic framing.

Work “ethic” plus

Linked to the “labour as resource” metaphor – in a sort of unholy neural coupling – is the moral framing of work which comes from religious traditions, most notably from the Protestant (or, rather, Puritan) Work Ethic. You don’t have to consciously subscribe to these religious beliefs to be affected – moral guilt over “laziness” seems to affect practically everyone in our society (but not in all societies – the framing isn’t universal).

And thus we arrive at these strange notions:

  • Work is morally virtuous regardless of the experience of the worker.
  • Firms should be “free” to make this experience even worse.

And so (to cut a very long historical story short) we get the news frames of guilty “slackers” merged with market fundamentalism. And, to many, it looks just like “common sense”. Meanwhile, metaphorical terms such “flexible labour” (or worse, “cheap labour”) hide the reality of human degradation.

* UPDATE
The Independent reveals that the author of the “report” (multi-millionaire venture capitalist, Adrian Beecroft) has interests which include “an online company offering payday loans at huge rates of interest”. The Independent quotes “Lib Dem sources” who called Beecroft an “ideological” figure: “He is a private individual who has produced a report not based on any evidence.”

Yet another case of someone with the “right” ideological views producing a Mickey Mouse “report” which becomes front-page news. For further examples, see my earlier piece on the so-called TaxPayers’ Alliance.

Written by NewsFrames

October 26, 2011 at 11:04 am

Hit by media metaphor

Hit by media metaphorOct 3, 2011 – Today’s Telegraph provides a good example of a media metaphor for causation: “Minimum wage hits jobs for young”. “Hits” is a primary metaphor which expresses causation in terms of direct physical action (eg muscular force). Metaphors of this type tend to strengthen our over-simplistic (and often false) notions of causality between complex phenomena.

It’s commonplace in our thinking to see one thing as the direct cause of another, and in this way we impose narrative structure onto large-scale abstractions where it might not actually exist. In this particular case, complexities and indirect “systemic” factors in whatever “causal relationship” exists between minimum wage and youth-unemployment are excluded by the conceptual metaphor, “hits”.

Metaphorical framing doesn’t just map words from one conceptual domain to another. It also imposes (in a genuinely restrictive way at the “neuron-firing” level) certain inferences and reasoning. In the example “A hits B” (where both A and B are complex sociological phenomena, largely abstract constructions), inferences concerning direct, forceful action are activated according to the “hits” metaphor. Reasoning and inferences for indirect, “systemic” forms of “causation” are not part of this neural mapping. (Note that these processes are occurring rapidly and outside of conscious awareness).

George Lakoff has argued at length (in his book, Whose Freedom) that conservative moral views tend to correlate more with “direct causation” framing, whereas “progressive” frames enable us to think more easily in terms of “systemic causation”. Social, economic and political policies are, of course, based on assumptions about causation.

It can’t be repeated often enough that conceptual metaphor/framing is not just about language and “spin”. There are no clever deconstructions to be made here. But there is a more fundamental point about how media metaphors shape our reasoning at a level we’re generally not aware of.

Alternative headlines:
• ‘NOTHING IS CAUSED DIRECTLY BY ANYTHING’
• ‘MINIMUM WAGE HITS UNDERPAID WAGE SLAVERY’
• ‘SOME MYSTERIOUS SYSTEMIC SHIT HAPPENING

Written by NewsFrames

October 3, 2011 at 10:06 am

“Benefit tourists”

"Benefits tourists"Sept 30, 2011 – Today’s Telegraph provides a crudely malign formulation: “benefit tourists”. Thankfully, it’s not (yet) as well-established as, say, “benefit cheats”. (Update 2013: it’s now fairly well-established – see below).

“Tourist” is, of course, a frame. There are clearly defined roles and scenarios in the tourist frame: A tourist isn’t looking for work; a tourist is not from around here; a tourist seeks pleasure, a tourist is travelling, a tourist is not escaping from hardship or persecution, or building a new life; a tourist is exploring, sight-seeing or relaxing (ie not looking for work), and perhaps she/he wears sunglasses and a stupid grin.

What’s notable about the Telegraph article (and also this BBC piece and this Daily Mail story) is that the term, “benefit tourist”, is used without any attempt to describe precisely who it refers to (eg categories, financial criteria). But we can at least infer from media coverage that if the European Commission gets its way, Britain will be flooded with “benefit tourists”.

Update (25/3/13): Apparently 93% of working-age immigrants are NOT claiming working-age benefits. The “crisis” claimed by government is “manufactured“.

Update 2 (27/11/13): Some studies have found “benefit tourism” to be largely a myth. Dominic Casciani, a BBC Home Affairs correspondent, cites some of this research (BBC News, 27 November 2013). He asked what the evidence was for widespread benefit tourism, and concluded:

“The answer is that there is very little – and it is an extremely complex picture. That does not mean that benefit tourism doesn’t exist – but what’s clear is that the evidence points strongly in the direction that people migrate to find work or for family reasons. They are less likely to up sticks to cross borders – or even continents – just for a weekly giro.”Dominic Casciani, BBC News, 27 November 2013

But the “benefits tourism” frame now seems well-established and regularly used by the news media and politicians of both right and left. Every time the words are used, the conceptual frame is invoked and its inferences reinforced. Here’s today’s BBC headline:

bbc-benefit-tourism

Written by NewsFrames

September 30, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Posted in Jobs, Telegraph

“Bad businesses” – reframing wealth-creation?

Bad businessesSept 27, 2011 – Three of today’s newspapers (Telegraph, Guardian, Mirror) lead with Labour’s attack on “bad businesses”. If the previews of Ed Miliband’s speech are accurate, Labour is attempting to reframe “wealth-creation”. Miliband will say the Tories “talk as if the CEOs and the executives are the only people who create wealth.”

The true wealth-creators, according to Miliband, are “every man and woman who goes out to work”. In other words: JOBS RULE. Work is of primary importance in Labour’s moral-value system. (Back in 2001, the Labour government launched a Work First campaign. JOBS before everything else).

In the framing wars this is no threat to the ideological “free-market” right, where “businesses create jobs”. Even bad businesses. Miliband gets around this by citing “asset strippers” as the main example of “bad business”. (Asset stripping tends to lead to job losses). But this would imply that Labour’s measure of the “good” or “bad” of businesses is how many jobs they “create” or “destroy”.

Does the financial services sector come out as “good” or “bad” in this moral framing? Banks, credit card, loan, insurance companies, etc? They “create” vast numbers of jobs. Mostly low-paid soul-crippling work – eg in call centres; telemarketing nuisance calls, junk-mail production, stuff like that. The “services” they provide can perhaps best be summed up as shuffling lots of ones and zeros around in databases – from relatively poor to relatively rich account holders.

Given the widespread public anger over the bailout of banks (with taxpayers’ money), it would seem a good time to raise big questions about the type of “wealth” “created” by the banking and “financial services” sector.

But instead we get a kind of backwards reframing of “wealth-creation” from Labour. The “moral virtue of jobs” was a framing victory for the early industrialists/capitalists. E.P. Thompson’s classic, The Making of the English Working Class, (1963) described the process. Molly Scott Cato provided an excellent update (with regard to New Labour) here.

Alternative headlines:
• ‘BANKS BAILED OUT BY SLAVE LABOUR’
• ‘GOOD BUSINESSES WORK SHORTER HOURS’
• ‘FINANCIAL SERVICES CREATE NOTHING USEFUL’

Written by NewsFrames

September 27, 2011 at 10:14 am

Posted in Guardian, Jobs, Mirror, Telegraph