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Journalists urged to avoid use of ‘lazy’ or ‘chavs’ in stories about poverty

NUJ MancJournalists are being urged not to use terms like “lazy,” “anti-social” or “chavs” when reporting on people in poverty in new guidelines.

The guidelines, set out by the National Union of Journalists, also advise reporters to learn more about the benefits system – and use the term “recipient” rather than “claimant” when writing about it.

The use of 20 phrases including “sponger”, “skiver”, “dole dossers”, “scroungers” and “chavs” – cited as derogatory terms currently used to describe people in poverty – are also discouraged.

The guidelines are outlined in a report entitled ‘A Guide to Reporting Poverty’, produced by the NUJ’s Manchester & Salford branch in conjunction with the charity Church Action on Poverty.

Its key findings include:.

  • Journalists should not “judge” people just because they are benefits.
  • Labels such as lazy, cheating, skiving, feckless and anti-social portray people as having no value.
  • People living in poverty risk having their “humanity and dignity” taken away because of how the media portrays them.
  • Journalists need to realise that the majority of people suffering poverty did not put themselves in that situation by choice.

Rachel Broady, the branch’s equality officer, said: “The language used to describe people living in poverty isn’t acceptable. We can’t allow it to become the norm.

“It’s important for journalism and for journalists that we regularly stop to think how what is written could potentially demonise sections of our society.

“People experiencing poverty are not our enemy and their stories should be reported fairly and accurately.”

The experiences of with men and women in receipt of benefits, both in and out of work, were gathered in interviews prior to the report’s publication.

16 comments

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  • April 26, 2016 at 7:13 am
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    This is not appropriate use of Union time ie money.

    Represent your staff , if you want to dictate what people write then go and work in China.

    Some people are poor because the are lazy, or the welfare state has made them so.

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  • April 26, 2016 at 7:51 am
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    More doublespeak. Have these people got nothing better to do than tell people how to do their jobs? Recipient? FFS.

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  • April 26, 2016 at 9:26 am
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    This is a very good piece of work and very much a local initiative by the Manchester & Salford NUJ branch. Journalists should know the value of words and the impact they have. False labels, stereotyping and inaccuracies have no place in good journalism so journalists should not be afraid of any quality guidance that can make them think if the words they are using are correct and appropriate. I will have no problem recommending this guide to NUJ members throughout the North and Midlands. It is precisely this type of work that moved us on from outdated language about people with disabilities, sexism and much more. It is timely and welcome.

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  • April 26, 2016 at 9:28 am
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    As someone who now freely gives of my time helping at an ever-expanding food bank, I would just like to make one comment.
    As long as journalists realise that the most relevant finding of this is the fourth bullet point, then there should be no problems.

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  • April 26, 2016 at 10:02 am
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    All media dictate what their employees write whether it’s the Sun, BBC, Russia Today or Washington Post. Complete media freedom is an illusion dreamed up by people with no grasp of the real world.
    Anyone working for the BBC or The Guardian knows not to criticise the gay rights movement.
    If it was the Sun you must love Mrs Thatcher and the military.
    Washington Post and New York Times: Israel can do no wrong.
    Russia Today: Beware Nato and an enlarged EC.
    The regionals wouldn’t publish an article calling for the abolition of monarchy or examining whether Britain really did win the First World War (commemorative features are everywhere).
    Even Tindle started laying down the law, between the flower shows and fox hunt reports, during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
    You may forgive the public for being naïve on the matter but for a journalist to hide his head in the sand (often an NUJ member to boot) really takes the biscuit.

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  • April 26, 2016 at 11:09 am
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    The words journalists (and others!) use to describe people can cause harm. We interviewed many people experiencing poverty and they contributed to the guide – for which we’re grateful.
    This is not journalists telling other journalists what to write or how to do their jobs, it is people experiencing poverty sharing their reactions – so it is our readers, viewers and listeners responding to our work.
    For what it’s worth this hasn’t cost the union much money. The research has been conducted by unpaid grass roots activists in the NUJ and the costs have been shared with the charity Church Action On Poverty. http://www.church-poverty.org.uk/news/pressroom/stigma/nuj
    Our guide and guidelines now join others available from the NUJ on gender, race, LGBT issues, etc, which intend to ensure we recognise the people in society we are representing when we’re at work.

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  • April 26, 2016 at 11:26 am
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    I agree that papers take stances on this issue and that is an inescapable fact.
    However, not every newspaper is guilty of this use of language and to say otherwise is wrong
    In the main professionals do not need to be told how to do their job properly.

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  • April 26, 2016 at 11:50 am
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    What responsible journalist uses such value-loaded terms when writing what’s supposed to be objective copy anyway? In a quote or a letter, perhaps, but isn’t news copy supposed to be neutral (without starting a long and tedious post-modern discussion about perceived bias and subjective truth…)

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  • April 26, 2016 at 12:44 pm
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    The hard truth for the left is that this kind of ‘demonisation’ of those in ‘poverty’ is most popular among the working class, as opinion polls on the subject of benefits cuts frequently show. I suspect this is because they are more likely to have direct contact with these people as opposed to the middle-class agitators of the left who conjure up a romanticised view of them.

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  • April 26, 2016 at 1:25 pm
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    Kendo, try working at a food bank for a day. Believe me, there is nothing about poverty to be romanticized, it has nothing to do with being on the left or right, it is downright tragic. Many of the people I meet have lost well-paid jobs or health issues.

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  • April 26, 2016 at 4:49 pm
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    Surely the NUJ would be better employed working to eradicate the lazy management who run the businesses where their poor(ly) paid members toil away instead of telling them how to write stories…. although I agree in principle with the conclusions, it is not the place of the NUJ to tell reporters how to do their job.

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  • April 26, 2016 at 4:51 pm
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    We are all just a P45 away from being a target for the ill-judged use of any of the above terms – perhaps even from former colleagues, not in spite but in ignorance of how powerful our pens, typewriters and keyboards actually are in shaping opinions and prejudices.

    I hope no journalist is ever prevented from ‘telling it like it is’ about certain subjects but guidelines like these, which are a role for the NUJ, have done loads to change attitudes on things like sexism, race and mental health.

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  • April 26, 2016 at 5:50 pm
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    Many under-paid/redundant journalists are themselves living in poverty.

    Some (supposedly) working journalists are themselves lazy, feckless and/or anti-social skivers.

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  • April 27, 2016 at 8:41 am
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    Time will prove Chris Morley right.
    On the most sickening day for journalism in my lifetime – unlawful killing at Hillsborough censored on the front pages of The Times and The Sun – anything that boosts ethical reporting should be welcomed.

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  • April 27, 2016 at 8:50 am
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    No it should not be the job of the NUJ to tell journalists that these terms are unacceptable. That task should’ve been performed by newspaper management and they should not have been used in the first place.

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  • May 7, 2016 at 3:40 pm
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    Is any journalist who has stooped so low as to use the phrase “dole dossers” really going to pay any attention to these guidelines?

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