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Report shows contrasting media attitudes to poverty

Local papers are handling the reporting of poverty-related issues in a more positive way than the nationals, according to a new report.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a campaigning organisation dedicated to fighting poverty, has published a report exploring how the issue is dealt with across the UK news media.

It took as a case study the demise of Farepak, a Christmas savings club which collapsed in October 2006 causing thousands of mainly lower-income households to lose their savings.

The report found there was “a distinct difference between national and local media” regarding the way the affair was reported.

It said that while the majority of the national press focused on the “irony” of Farepak’s bank, HBOS, having set up a Christmas savings account, local titles focused on future measures and the “positive” actions taken by government to alleviate the problem.

But even though the regional press stories invariably empathised with the savers affected by the collapse, the report identified an “us and them” pattern in the way their plight was reported.

It quoted a Liverpool Daily Post writer as saying it was “truly bizarre” that anyone would choose to put their money in a Christmas savings club rather than a bank account, and a Bristol Evening Post writer who said: “There are people out there who want to save for Christmas.”

The report says this kind of language implicitly treated the savers as people different from their normal readers.

The report was accompanied by a guide for journalists on reporting poverty produced jointly by the JRF and the Society of Editors.

Its author, journalist David Seymour described poverty as the “final stigma in Britain” and claims that it is often covered “with little attempt to understand or explain what life is like for those on the bottom rung of the economic ladder.”

SoE 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.”


John Howard (12/09/2008 14:10:53)
No surprise that local newspapers report on poverty with more sensitivity than nationals since local newspaper reporters are more likely to be suffering from it than, erm, most of their readers.

Peter Magill (13/09/2008 07:51:45)
Hardly surprising that newspaper reporters up and down the country failed to realise the hardship associated with the Farepak collapse when you consider how bloody middle class the industry has become. The slew of over-educated graduates festooning our papers have little regard for the financial trials and tribulations of ordinary working folk.The sneering attitude towards the less well-off or sociall excluded is accurately reflected in the plunging readerships of 99 per cent of our titles.