Many occupations are unhappy with their coverage in the news media. In the past, most complaints alleged superficiality or distortion. Now the demands of promotional culture (Wernick 1991; Fairclough 1991) can make no news even worse than bad news. A high 'corporate profile', often used by government as a key indicator of effectiveness in the quasi-market competition for public funds, has become crucial for public sector agencies and organisations. While high-visibility groups like the police try to improve their image, low-visibility players like HM Customs and Excise work to establish their social importance through 'fly-on-the-wall' documentaries (Schlesinger, Tumber and Murdock 1991).
Few occupations, however, have had their sense of grievance about media treatment given official endorsement. The Inquiry Panel on the death of Kimberley Carlile made a 'Reasoned Decision' to meet in private on the basis of hostile press coverage (Blom 1987:273); and the government Command Paper reporting the Butler Sloss inquiry into allegations of widespread familial child sexual abuse in County Cleveland contains a specific section on the role of the news media in the crisis (Cm. 412 1988:168-171). During the mid-1980s articles in social work trade journals frequently reflected the preoccupation of both managers and frontline staff in local authority social services departments with media responses to their work. Since 1990 this kind of semi-public anxiety has diminished, though the private concerns of social workers and departments may not have done. A review of Community Care for the period January 1997 to August 1998 produced only one major article on the news media, and that related to the possible damage caused by the portrayal of people with a mental illness (Community Care, 28 August-3 September 1998). Nevertheless, 1998 research into reader attitudes still showed that 'The majority of those surveyed felt that the way the media covers social work issues makes their jobs more difficult to do' (Community Care, 30 April-6 May 1998).
Social workers' fears about the impact of hostile reporting on public attitudes