The Daily Mail and their Tory beneficiaries would have you think that the current crisis within the NHS are caused mainly by a combination of the following variables:
HOWEVER, this is not the case according to some more in-depth analysis by Ravi Jayaram, an NHS consultant (in The Guardian), who instead blames several years of chronic underfunding by the Tory government which have had the following effects:
Firstly, Primary Care services have been decimated by funding cuts, and as a result there are fewer GPs per patients, and so people feel they have to go to A and E rather than seeking help from their local GP.
Secondly, the recent conflict over Junior Doctors’ pay and the removal of the nurses bursary has left a sour note in the NHS, with those who are able to do so retiring early or leaving the country, meaning that the staff left behind struggle to provide safe and effective care.
Thirdly, whole wards of some hospitals have been closed by hospital trusts in order to stay in the black, meaning there is a decrease in supply.
NB – all of this has been going on while, as is well known, there is an increasing demand for NHS services by an ageing population!
And the deeper cause of all of this….well it’s a blinkered commitment to a neoliberal ideology which champions lower taxation and tight control on public spending….
News Values are general criteria such as ‘extraordinariness’, ‘negativity’ and ‘elite persons’ which journalists use to determine whether an event is newsworthy (‘worthy of inclusion in the news’).
The existence of news values is one of the reasons why many sociologists view the news as a social construction – in other words the news is not simply an unbiased reflection of the objectively most important events ‘out there’ in society; rather the news is the end result of selective processes through which gatekeepers such as owners, editors and journalists make choices about what events are important enough to be covered, and how they should be covered.
Spencer-Thomas (2008) defines News values as general guidelines or criteria that determine the worth of a news story and how much prominence it is given by newspapers or broadcast media. Brighton and Foy (2007) suggest that news values are ‘often intangible, informal, almost unconscious elements’. News values define what journalists, editors and broadcasters consider as newsworthy.
The best known list of news values was supplied by Galtung and Rouge (1970). They analysed international news across a group of newspapers in Norway in 1965 and identified a number of News Values shared by Norwegian journalists (1)
Galtung and Rouge did uncover more news values, the list below is just a selection of the most ‘dramatic’:
Extraordinariness – rare, unpredictable and surprising events have more newsworthiness than routine events.
Threshold – the ‘bigger’ the size of the event, the more likely it is to be reported.
Unambiguity – the simpler the event, the more likely it is to be reported.
Reference to elite persons – events surrounding the famous and the powerful are often seen as more newsworthy.
Reference to elite nations – events in nations perceived to be ‘culturally similar’ to the United Kingdom are more likely to reported on – for example, disasters in America are more likely to be reported on than disasters in African countries.
Personalisation – if events can be personalised easily they are more likely to get into the news.
Negativity – bad news is regarded as more newsworthy than good news.
According to Galtung and Rouge, journalists use News-Values to select-out certain events as less newsworthy than others, and they thus act as gate-keepers – they quite literally shut out certain events, and let other events into the news-agenda, thus narrowing our window on the world.
There are some contemporary critiques of the concept of News Values, but I’ll come back to those later!
(1) Chapman 2106, Sociology for AQA A-Level, Collins.
Is there a right-wing bias in the British media? Here I explore some of the sociological evidence which suggests that there is a right wing bias in the media and point out some of the limitations of this evidence.
But is David Dimbleby right about the media being ‘to the right’? In this post I explore some of the available evidence to see how far it supports this view.
NB – I am aware that how you answer this question depends on how you define left and right, and that not only are there different dimensions to left and right (YES I have come across the political compass!), but that the meanings of left and right shift over time, so they are relative concepts.
Having said that, we have to start somewhere – so I broadly define ‘right wing’ as neoliberal – pro-privatisation of public services, deregulation and lowering taxation, an emphasis on economic growth rather than social progress, and a current commitment to austerity. I also include within my broad definition of ‘right wing’ anti-immigration sentiments (sorry, I know it’s vague!). Left wing I define as against further privatisation of public services (more to the left is in favour of re-nationalisation), an enhanced role of the state in regulating especially big business, and a belief in higher levels of taxation of especially the wealthy (those earning over £50K a year for example). Also included within a broadly leftist perspective is a commitment to end austerity and a commitment to internationalism – the free movement of people across boarders and so a much more relaxed attitude to migration than the right.
NB – That was all just off the top of my head, I’ll write something more articulate when I get around to it!
Something I find very interesting is that the first piece of evidence below gets around the whole tricky issue of operationalizing right and left wing… just by asking people ‘do you think the media is right or left wing’? This raises all sorts of sociological questions about objectivity and subjectivity and categories. From a teaching perspective I’m currently thinking this ‘measuring political attitudes’ topic could be the perfect one for explaining the difference between positivist and phenomenological approaches to social research.
Anyway – on to the point of this post…
Four pieces of evidence of right wing bias in the media
The general public certainly seem to feel that British newspapers have a right-wing bias, as the results of this March 2017 YouGov poll demonstrate:
The two most popular newspapers in Britain are the Daily Mail and the Sun (a joint readership of 10 million) and these are two of the most ‘right wing’ according to public opinion, which again suggests that according to people’s ‘gut feelings’ we do, indeed have a right wing press.
However, there are limitations with this evidence – it is only based on the subjective feelings of people – just because people feel a paper has a left or right wing bias, doesn’t mean that the paper actually has a left or right bias.
From a positivist point of view, in order to answer the question of whether there actually IS a right wing bias in the press, what we need is some more objective data, and in order to get that we need to find some content analysis of media sources which pin down, or operationalise more precisely what they actually mean by left and right wing views…..the rest of the sources below do just this, by focusing on specific aspects of right, or left wing thought.
The research cites the following examples of unfair representation:
through a process of vilification that went well beyond the normal limits
being denied his own voice in the reporting
sources that were anti-Corbyn tended to outweigh those that support him
He systematically treated with scorn and ridicule in both the broadsheet and tabloid press in a way that no other political leader is or has
The press repeatedly associated Corbyn with terrorism and positioned him as a friend of the enemies of the UK.
Given that Jeremy Corbyn’s views are much more left wing than most labour MPs, evidenced by the fact that JC is one of the most outspoken critics of right wing neoliberal austerity policies, his vilification in the mainstream media could suggest a right wing bias: the very fact that he is generally talked about critically, rather than being allowed to express his views without distortion suggests an attempt to prevent left-wing political view points coming to public attention, and if they do come to public attention, an attempt to dismiss them as silly.
HOWEVER, a fundamental limitation with this piece of research evidence is its lack of representativeness of coverage of people with left wing views – it only focuses on Jeremy Corbyn – it might just be the case that during 2015 there were other people with left wing views who were being taken more seriously, so the vilification of Corbyn might have nothing to do with his left-wing views, it might be purely personal. This is unlikely, I know, but we don’t know this from the above research.
Neoliberalism, Austerity and the Mainstream Media – a 2015 report by the university of Sheffield looked at how over 1000 news articles about the impact of social policies. The research specifically looked at whether news articles had a neoliberal framework – i.e. did they discuss things like austerity purely in terms of economics (‘squeezing public finances’) or did they widen their discussion to talk about the broader human impact (family breakdowns, illness and death for example)
If an article limited itself to how policies would impact people’s finances, or the wider economy, then it was classified as a ‘neoliberal frame’, if it focused on the impacts on family, education, health or other non-economic impacts on individuals, it was coded as a non-neoliberal frame.
To my mind this is much stronger evidence of a ‘right wing’ bias in the media than the previous two pieces – at least if we accept the operationalization of ‘neoliberal framing’ as indicating a ‘right wing’ point of view.
However, a problem with the above research is that the category ‘neoliberal frame’ is quite broad, and precisely what statements come within the category is open to differential interpretation by researchers.
Also – exploring neoliberal framing is a very general level of content analysis – for more valid evidence of a ‘right wing’ bias you would have to look at how the media treated specific neoliberal policies such as privatisation, deregulation, lowering taxation, or the issue of immigration…
“Hate speech in some traditional media, particularly tabloid newspapers, continues to be a problem, with biased or ill-founded information disseminated about vulnerable groups, which may contribute to perpetuating stereotypes.
It singled out Katie Hopkins’ article in The Sun, published in April 2015, as an example of how bad things can get – the article was entitled “Rescue boats? I’d use gunships to stop migrants”, in which Katie Hopkins likened migrants to “cockroaches”, “feral humans” and that gunboats should be dispatched to prevent further arrivals.
While the above does suggest a clear right wing bias in The Sun, case studies are not representative, so we’d need something more quantitative to see how widespread such a tone of reporting is.
So that’s four pieces of evidence, based on systematic research of several sources (NB the last one did look at more than one article!) which suggest a right wing bias in media content, however, they all have there limitations, so I’ll leave it to you to decide whether there’s sufficient evidence here to conclude that we really do have a right-wing media here in the U.K.
Further pieces of evidence of right wing media bias
Jeremy Corbyn being accused of making a U-turn on a promise to abolish student debt, when he didn’t actually promise to abolish student debt.
In the run-up to the general election, Jeremy Corbyn made a comment about student debt. Speaking to the NME about the issue, he said: “I will deal with it.”
At the time, this was not widely picked up on by the national media. But – where it was reported – most papers accurately reflected that Corbyn had not explicitly promised to write off all debts. For instance, the Daily Mail said the Labour leader had pledged to “reduce or even write off” student debt.
But then (on Sunday (23rd July 2017) Corbyn was quizzed about this remark during a BBC interview.
Presenter Andrew Marr put it to him: “If you are a young voter and you heard those words: ‘I will deal with it’, you might have thought Jeremy Corbyn is going to relieve me of my debt.”
Corbyn was forced to defend his position, saying: “We never said we would completely abolish it.”
For some, this constituted a U-turn.
The Mail said: “Labour has backtracked on its promise to write off £100 billion of student debt.” The Telegraph said the party had “retracted its pledge to abolish student debt”. And Alan Sugar called Jeremy Corbyn a “cheat” and said he should resign for having “lied”.
So – the above is a great example of how a hostile right-wing editorial team from the BBC, fronted by Andrew Marr, can take a positive vote-winning part of Labour’s education policy, spin it out of context and turn it into a negative, which an even more hostile right-wing press further exaggerate.
If you know of any more systematic content analysis on this topic, please do share – sharing is caring – which is very much NOT a right wing idea of course!
In this post Craig Murray analyses the political background of senior bureaucrats at the BBC – finding that they range from Blairite to UKIP – in other words, very right wing.
Identifying media bias through content analysis is a key skill in sociology. The American media is often accused of having a right-wing bias which means they will present a pro-capitalist, pro-business world view as normal and desirable and promote a neoliberal policy agenda. (1)
Below I analyse one newspaper article (about why 66 million Americans have no savings at all) to illustrate how agenda setting, or what and what isn’t included in the article, results in a subtle right-wing, neoliberal bias.
OK – It looks like it might be a lefty topic, because it’s about the precarious financial life of the poorest sections of American society, but there’s no class-based analysis focusing on how it’s mainly low-paid and temporary jobs in the context of 30 years neoliberal economics resulting in productivity gains, but increasingly unequal national income distribution meaning the very rich get richer, while most of the rest of us, especially the poor, get relatively poorer.
Having alerted us to these ‘shocking statistics’ (oh those poor, poor Americans), we are then told that this low-savings rate is spread among all households –
‘the problem is hardly confined to the poor. Yes, more than half of all households with an annual income under $30,000 have no emergency savings. But fully one in six households with an annual income between $50,000 and $75,000 had no emergency savings either’.
The article then goes on to talk about how Gen Y is better at saving than Gen X – the tone of which seems to blame 40 to 60 somethings for having too high consumption levels and not saving enough… (‘if your damn kids can save, then why not you too’?) – here ignoring the following two important contextual facts:
(A) Gen Xrs were encouraged to consume in the context of a growing economy, then the neoliberal crash came in 2007, and here we are: hyper-precarity;
(B) OK Yes – Gen Yrs may appear to be better at saving, rather than avoiding debt, but why are they saving? I bet once you take out all of those saving to go travelling (and hence consuming) or saving for a mortgage (you now need a bigger deposit than your parents), you’d have similar rates of debt being racked up across the generations.
The article ends with the classic neoliberal trick of individualising the whole problem:
“The biggest barrier to saving is not being in the habit of saving,” says McBride. “You have to set some money aside with every paycheck.” Making it automatic can help, he advises. But no matter how you do it, start now.”
Ignoring the fact that for the typical person with no savings (mots of them are in low-paid jobs) there simply isn’t enough money left at the end of the week to put something extra by!
In summary: why don’t people save according to the narrow agenda of this right-wing, neoliberal article?
40-60 somethings got into the habit of consuming too much.
It’s a problem which effects all levels of income
20-30 somethings are much better at saving than their parents
Irresponsible parents need to learn from their kids and just save more….
What’s not considered/ emphasised
There are 10-15% of American households which are in no position to save for emergencies
This is because 30 years of neoliberal policies have created precarious and low-paid jobs, which has meant productivity gains, the gains from which have gone disproportionately to the top 1%.
Generation Yrs are shit-scared of their futures and so are more likely to save compared to their parents.
We need state-intervention to redistribute wealth away from the richest 1% and back to the lowest paid workers who actually created this wealth through their labour power.
(1) I didn’t intend to write this today, it just sort of happened, I was actually looking up stats on inequality in America, and I got quite annoyed when I read (and thought) about the content of this article.
Headline celebrity news this week was that Kim Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint in the early hours of the morning at her luxury apartment in Paris. Five armed men disguised as police men tied her up and locked her in the bathroom, leaving with a jewellery box containing items worth 5 million Euros and a ring worth 4 million.
That’s really all the detail you need to know about the robbery (really) but not according to the mainstream news – there’s a lot of material outlining the detail of the robbery if you do a search for ‘Kim Kardashian Robbed‘ – I haven’t actually read anything other than the summaries of the even, on the premise that you can’t trust anything that comes out of a celebrity’s mouth – first-hand accounts are very likely to be spun out of all proportion to what actually happened, which I imagine was in-and-out as quickly as possible (wouldn’t you?).
What’s of interest to me is the motivation behind the robbery – and I don’t get it TBH – surely rational choice theory can’t explain this – Sure, there’s opportunity – everyone knows Kim Kardashian is loaded because she flouts her jewellery over social media, and yes it’s a relatively easy heist (if you know there’s a lapse in security), but surely the risk of getting caught is far too great…. there must be CCTV footage of them, the jewellery pieces must be extremely distinct so can’t be sold on easily, and there is going to be a lot of interest in catching the robbers.
So maybe, just maybe, this is one crime that cultural criminology can explain? Maybe this is an attempt by the robbers to become notorious celebrities themselves – perhaps they know they’re going to get caught, but also know they won’t get that long in jail (there was no violence), and once they get out – they can probably milk their notoriety for a few years at least?
Secondly, and as a statistical counter-trend to ‘Kardashianisation’ – Women more generally seem to be coming to their senses and seem less willing to consciously disable themselves… For the first time, women are buying more trainers than high heels. According to a Mintel survey, 37% of women have bought trainers in the past year compared to only 33% who bought heels.
Supporting evidence for the continued relevance of Sue Palmer’s Toxic Childhood, and you also could interpret this as supporting evidence for the broad Marxist idea that fast-food company profits trump child well-being, or evidence of the impotence of governments to implement social policy in a post-modern age.
*A new theme I’m working on – to try and bash out a weekly-ish post applying some sociology to at least three news items once a week.
NB – I got the idea for a weekly round up from ‘The Week‘ which selects out the highlights of the previous weeks’ news with commentary – IMO it’s the most efficient way to keep up with news events because you miss out on all of the hype, anticipation, repetition and just non-news that you get with daily broadcasts.