Social Policy, the Media, and Misrepresentation

By Bob Franklin | Go to book overview

Chapter 10

Are you paying attention?

Education and the media

Tony Jeffs

Education attracted far less media attention prior to the 1950s. Serious and popular dailies tended to restrict reporting to substantive policy changes such as new examinations or school-leaving ages, perennial disputes relating to teacher pay (too low) and numbers (too few), class sizes (too big) and school buildings (too dilapidated), standards (always declining), plus at irregular intervals, 'scandals' featuring unfortunate schools or teachers.

This relative indifference reflected the political vacuum at the centre, since education was primarily a local government responsibility with central government formulating the legislative framework via Education Acts. Enacting this legislative framework always occasioned acrimonious disputes with church leaders and local politicians so ministers wisely stood aside unless pressure to intervene proved irresistible. Consequently fewer Education Acts were passed between 1870 and 1970 than between 1980 and 1998.

But if national papers showed little interest, local papers offered some recompense. Cub reporters went to record the monthly deliberations of education committees. Local papers also included details of prosecutions for truancy and illegal employment of children, along with reports of speech days, sports days, prize-givings and outings. Dry and tedious perhaps but they usually benefited from being compiled by reporters who attended the committee or event. As one reporter explained then he 'actually got to visit schools, met teachers, even kids…[and]…learnt an awful lot about education just listening to debates and reading Education Committee minutes' (interview). These provincial journalists played a key role in formulating policy because local control often produced intense controversy. The Bristol Evening Post (12 May 1965) even claimed (tongue in cheek?) that it devoted more column inches to the decision to go comprehensive than the Second World War.


Tales of anarchy, terror and depravity

National and local papers at irregular intervals spice up coverage with tales of 'outrage' or 'scandal'. Riots and disorder, plus reports of the sexual peccadilloes

-157-

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Social Policy, the Media, and Misrepresentation
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Figures and Tables vii
  • Introduction 1
  • References 13
  • Part 1 - Producing Social Policy News 15
  • Chapter 1 - Soft-Soaping the Public? 17
  • References 36
  • Chapter 2 - Media Coverage of Social Policy 39
  • Chapter 3 - Charitable Images 51
  • Chapter 4 - Dying of Ignorance? 69
  • References 84
  • Part 2 - The Media Reporting of Social Policy 87
  • Chapter 5 - Poor Relations 89
  • Notes 102
  • Chapter 6 - Home Truths 104
  • Chapter 7 - The Picture of Health? 118
  • References 133
  • Chapter 8 - Media and Mental Health 135
  • Note 144
  • Chapter 9 - Thinking the Unthinkable 146
  • Note 156
  • Chapter 10 - Are You Paying Attention? 157
  • References 172
  • Chapter 11 - Exorcising Demons 174
  • Part 3 - The Media Reporting of Social Policy 191
  • Chapter 12 - Bulger, 'Back to Basics' and the Rediscovery of Community 193
  • References 205
  • Chapter 13 - The Ultimate Neighbour from Hell? 207
  • Notes 220
  • Chapter 14 - Out of the Closet 222
  • Chapter 15 - Social Threat or Social Problem? 238
  • Note 251
  • Chapter 16 - They Make Us Out to Be Monsters 253
  • Index 269
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