Comment

Journalism: misconstruction and headline-grabbing?

Conservative welfare minister Lord Freud has been widely condemned for suggesting that some disabled people are not worth the minimum wage. Freud has since offered an “unreserved apology” for his comments, but the controversy, in my opinion, speaks volumes about the willingness of certain journalists to utterly misconstrue a story.

Lord Freud’s comments generated a huge amount of media attention. Some commentators went further than others; Frances Ryan writing in the Guardian saw Freud’s comments as evidence “that this government sees disabled people as less than human”.

Some disabled people are desperate to work but, through no fault of their own, are unable to find employment

Lord Freud said he would consider the plausibility of allowing some disabled people to be paid significantly less than the minimum wage. If one does not consider the context behind what Freud was saying, Ryan’s comments seem justified. However, it appears that Freud’s motives for considering such a proposal were altruistic rather than cold hearted capitalist greed. If an employee’s worth is considered in terms of productivity, some severely disabled people are not worth the full wage as they will produce less than non-disabled people. Harsh though this sounds, this is how employers calculate whether it is worth taking on an employee.

As a result some disabled people are desperate to work but, through no fault of their own, are unable to find employment. This must be incredibly frustrating and will most likely be damaging to sense of self-worth. It is entirely justified to highlight the numerous problems with a policy that would allow some people to be paid less, but it is deeply unfair to ignore the context of Freud’s comments and misconstrue the thought behind them.

Diane Abbott caused controversy when she tweeted that “white people love playing divide and rule”.

Sadly it is all too common for some journalists to enthusiastically quote controversial comments without paying due attention to the context. Diane Abbott caused controversy when she tweeted that “white people love playing divide and rule”. Undeniably her words were poorly chosen and she should have anticipated the backlash. However, her comments were made in the context of a debate about whether the black community should be seen as one homogenous group. This context was ignored by certain news articles, and as Abbott pointed out it would be difficult to discuss the whole context in a 140 character tweet.

It is not just politicians who are quoted out of context. Take the example of Andy Murray. After an English reporter asked if he would be supporting Scotland in the World Cup (who had not qualified may I hasten to add) Murray joked that he would be supporting anyone but England. This led to accusations that Murray was anti-English. In the context in which the comments were made it is laughable that they could be taken seriously, and yet the media leapt on it. This anti-English label has followed Murray ever since.

Why do the media so often behave in this manner? It may be as simple as journalists revealing their own political bias or sadly, a more contrived attempt to boost their readership. Regardless, it reflects poorly on the British press, and on us, the consumers, who read such journalism.

Guy Williams

Image courtesy of Spyros Papaspyropoulos via Flickr

Follow Impact on Twitter and Facebook

Categories
CommentVoices

Leave a Reply