Readers, viewers and listeners tell journalists how to report poverty

People angered and frustrated by media representations of those living in poverty have inspired a Guide for Journalists on reporting.

The experiences of men and women in receipt of benefits, both in and out of work, were gathered in interviews by the National Union of Journalists.

The Union had previously created new guidelines for all its members on reporting poverty to exist alongside its materials on issues such as reporting gender, race and suicide.

The new guidelines state that journalists can’t avoid a measure of responsibility in fighting stereotypes of the working poor and benefit recipients as expressed through the mass media.reportingpovertyguidelines2

It has now launched A Guide to Reporting Poverty in partnership with Christian social justice charity Church Action on Poverty.

The experts on poverty contributing to the campaign say stop using chavs, lazy and feckless in stories.

Rachel Broady, Equality Officer at Manchester and Salford Branch, who wrote the guidelines and conducted the interviews, 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.”

Comments include:

  • Journalists need to realise that the majority of people suffering within poverty did not put themselves in that situation by choice.
  • See me as an individual, a person, a human being. Don’t think because I’m on benefits you can judge me or make your mind up about me without talking to me.
  • Don’t use labels like lazy, cheating, skiving, feckless (especially parents), anti-social (especially young people) – lumping all people in poverty under these labels, like we have no value. We do have value and this should be reported too.
  • People living in poverty have dignity. That humanity and dignity is taken away because of how the media portrays them.

Daily Mirror Real Britain columnist Ros Wynne-Jones joined the NUJ in launching the Guide for Journalists at its annual conference.

She said: “As the report says, poor people are actually the poverty experts. Viewing them as ‘case studies’ demeans people as human beings. They are living through welfare reform, through austerity, through poverty. They may be experiencing the bedroom tax, or be insecure work, they may have addictions or be homeless, or be in debt, or they may just be unlucky – something that can happen to any of us. In the course of writing around 150 columns, I have come to the conclusion bad luck is the most common denominator separating the lives of people in poverty from mine.

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“Unfair and inaccurate reporting doesn’t just damage lives, it damages all of us as journalists. That’s why these poverty reporting guidelines are in my view such a breakthrough for our industry. It’s why we need to take a stand.”

It is hoped the guidelines will be used by NUJ members and the Guide for Reporting Poverty will be adopted by journalists and publications across the country. Plans are in place to take the campaign to Scotland and Ireland.

Jackie, Poverty Media Programme Coordinator at Church Action on Poverty, said: “Church Action on Poverty is delighted to be working in partnership with the NUJ to promote the guidelines. They’re a great response to media reporting that stigmatises people living in poverty, in particular those in receipt of benefits, by using misleading information and negative stereotypes.

“We now need individual journalists, newspapers, broadcasters and online media companies to adopt the guidelines, and use them to report on poverty and related issues in a responsible and accurate way.”

unemployedhack is back, sadly

charliegoingforgold 002My first job was in a posh department store. I cleaned tables and tried not to growl at the customers who, I admit, I despised.

One day, while cleaning a coffee spill for a mum sitting with her young son, the boy struck up a conversation with me. Well, he showed me his new toy car.

I smiled at him and said, “It’s good, innit?”

“Innit,” his mother said, sneering as if she’d smelt something offensive. “Innit? Would you please not speak to my child like that!”

“I can’t help it,” I said, walking away. “It’s the way I speaks, innit.”

I was overheard and told by my boss that this sort of behaviour “would not do”.

The next day, maybe a week later, I’m not sure (it wasn’t memorable work) I was clearing a table and over-estimated my strength (not for the last time) and, picking up a tray of cutlery and plates, managed to drop a pot of sugar sachets on the floor.

“Bollocks,” I muttered under my breath. Or so I thought.

“What did you say?” I looked up, from my knees where I was on the floor picking up sugar sachets, to see a man in a pinstriped suit. I tried not to laugh at the cliché and continued picking up the sachets.

“I asked, ‘what did you say?’” he repeated, this time moving his newspaper aside to look down at me.

I’d had enough. Something snapped.

“I said bollocks!” I looked directly in his face, throwing the sachets in the air and walking out.

The decision to walk out of jobs I couldn’t stand never left me. Years later, while working at a press agency, my editor told me to “take a letter”. He wanted to dictate to me a letter for a tabloid columnist who’d annoyed him. I pointed out it wasn’t my job and that I had other things to do.

“You do what I tell you to do,” was his reply.

I stood up, picked my coat up off the back of the chair, told him to do something I won’t repeat here, and walked out.

I’ve lost my job for union agitation, for being disabled and off sick too much, for out-witting insecure bosses, for not being willing to be harassed by customers … now I’ve lost my job just because I was on a casual contract.

It got me thinking again about this country’s contempt for the unemployed.

What am I now?

I’m not signing on yet so I’m not benefit-claiming scum but I am unemployed and that’s low life, right?

And the longer I remain unemployed – despite not losing my job for any reason other than casuals are no longer being employed at this particular workplace – the more scummy I am, right?

And the fact that my employer wishes he could keep me on and praised my work – the fact that I am good at it – is of no consequence and will still be of no consequence when I’m asked to work in a multi-million pound corporation to “earn” my benefits.

Have I got this right, so far? That no matter why, when or how we lose our jobs the second we do so we are worthless, to be looked down on, to be willing to take any other job on offer and to forget anything we’ve achieved and certainly anything we aspire to.

I’ve been away a while, among the working masses, but constantly aware of the contempt in which some people on this insignificant, too often peevish, little island hold those less fortunate.

I’ve a few weeks before the wolf makes it to my door. I’ll let you know how it goes …