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.”

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