Poverty and the effects of economic exclusion are largely ignored by the UK news media according to a new report by a major research charity.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation today releases a study showing that poverty is only a marginal issue in the news and that journalists rarely explore the causes or consequences..
The report, Media, Poverty and Public Opinion in the UK analysed more than 150 newspapers, 100 radio programmes, 75 television news programmes and other magazine and new media sources over the week beginning 30 July as well as other qualitative and quantitative research.
When the issue did appear in stories, the focus was on extreme cases that highlighted the ‘failings’of undeserved people, the report found.
Lead author John McKendrick said that the media “has the capacity to inform the public about the nature of poverty” but this possibility is not taken full advantage of as poverty is seldom described or explained.
‘Imaginative reporting may prompt people to reflect on their views, and begin to build public support for anti-poverty initiatives,’he said.
The report concludes that the media have the ‘scope to humanise and politicise poverty. However this poverty is rarely explicitly described or explained”.
The foundation has also released a guidebook for reporters written by former Daily Mirror political editor David Seymour, Reporting Poverty in the UK, jointly produced by the Society of Editors and the Media Trust. It attempts to show ‘the dilemmas faced when reporting on poverty”.
When poverty is covered ‘the result is often negative, with little attempt to understand or explain what life is like for those on the bottom rung of the economic ladder’wrote Seymour in the guidebook, adding that poverty is the ‘final stigma in Britain”.
The pamphlet illustrates the different approaches taken by a variety of journalists, lists poverty organisations’ contact numbers and dispels common misconceptions about social and economic exclusion.
Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell said: ‘We want journalists to understand the facts and report them fairly and accurately. Issues such as poverty are frequently discussed in bland phrases or camouflaged by academic jargon.
‘It is wrong both ethically and commercially not to report the lives of people living in poverty as sensitively as we would any other members of our communities.’