Social Policy, the Media, and Misrepresentation

By Bob Franklin | Go to book overview

enthusiasm for recasting the relationship between government, media and citizens in significant ways. Labour's obsession with controlling the media seems to reflect a concern to use newspapers, radio and television to address voters directly while bypassing parliament, the traditional, but increasingly defunct, forum for debates and the close scrutiny of government policy. In this newly reconstructed relationship and 'in a new media age, new forms of dialogue must be created. Focus groups and market research are an essential part of this dialogue. So too are interactive party broadcasts and “Town Hall” meetings at which politicians can be questioned and held to account' (Gould 1998:297-298). Labour, according to Mandelson, wishes to consult citizens about their policy preferences via 'plebiscites, focus groups, lobbies, citizen movements and the Internet'. It no longer seems necessary to debate policy in Parliament. What is required is 'a different style of politics' which is more responsive and more closely tuned to public choices and preferences (Guardian, 16 March 1998:8). It is these choices and preferences which should inform policy. But the government's judgement about the independence and autonomy of citizens' policy choices risks appearing naive if not disingenuous. The government's growing enthusiasm for news management and the publicly funded advertising of policy initiatives makes politicians influential in shaping the very choices of citizens which they claim are driving the policy process. Citizens' policy preferences are not constructed in a vacuum but rely on information and opinion provided by the news media which are increasingly subject to news management and spin by the GICS, the COI and the Number 10 press office. It is undoubtedly easier for the government to persuade scriptwriters to endorse the merits of new policy initiatives than it is to win the support of critical, well-informed and organised groups of backbenchers during a Commons debate. While governments prefer to present, debate and promote their policies via the media rather than in Parliament, EastEnders will continue to offer soft soap as well as soap opera to its 20 plus million viewers three times a week.


References

a
Anderson, D. (1988) The Megaphone Solution: Government Attempts to Cure Social ProblemsWith Mass Media Campaigns, London: Social Affairs Unit.

b
Baird, R. (1997) 'Keeping an eye on the COI', Press Gazette, 19 September, 13.
Bayley, S. (1998) Labour Camp: The Failure of Style over Substance, London: B.T. Batsford Ltd.
Benn, T. (1994) Years of Hope: Diaries, Papers and Letters 1940-1962, London: Hutchinson.
Blair, T. (1989) 'Privatisation advertising: a report', unpublished report by the then Shadow Spokesperson for Trade and Industry.
Blumler, J.G. (1990) 'The modern publicity process', in M. Ferguson (ed.) PoliticalCommunication: The New Imperatives, London: Sage.

c
Cabinet Office (1997) Guidance on the Working of the Government Information Service, London: HMSO.

-36-

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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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