Tower Block of Commons plays into the hands of those crying Broken Britain

Communities featured have voiced fears the programme will focus ghoulishly on the negative, ignoring the positive, playing into the Broken Britain narrative.

Twenty contributors spent last week debating the way poverty is portrayed in the media on the Community Links blog. Last night’s Channel 4 programme Tower block of Commons illustrates many of the problems we found.

It puts MPs into council estates for a week, and faithfully records all the most incongruous moments.

Already on the Channel 4 site, members of the communities featured are voicing their fear that the programme will focus ghoulishly on the negative, ignoring the positive, playing into the hands of those crying Broken Britain.

Last week we discovered that the way the media portrays people on low incomes is neither positive nor reflective of the true situation.

Those covered are often the tiny minority who are also criminal or antisocial – the ‘visible poor‘. Meanwhile poor people of the past are portrayed as nobly struggling, while those of the present are seen as feckless scroungers.

And young people often get a particularly raw deal in the media.

There was less agreement on why this distortion occurs. Some focussed on the role of journalists, highlighting how little many journalists know about the lives of those they report on, and how they often don’t take the trouble to find out.

Others blamed it not on the journalists themselves but the media as a whole, where a desire to shock and sensationalise can override all other considerations, as in the case of the Tower Block.

On the other hand, perhaps charities have to shoulder some of the blame for being overly hostile towards those journalists who are genuinely interested, and even promoting their very own enterprise myth. Politicians and their language have a powerful influence, both in promoting negative stereotypes, and reacting to them. Indeed, it could be argued that government have thwarted their own ambitions for tackling poverty by turning the public against poor people.

So finally, what do we do about it? There’s perhaps a role for better understanding between journalists and charities, ensuring they work together rather than against each other. Perhaps ignoring the mainstream media and producing your own content or starting conversations in communities is the way forward. And JRF’s excellent guide to reporting poverty is being taken into journalism schools and promoted to students, hopefully influencing the next generation of reporters.

In the meantime, however, we’re left with the likes of Tower Block of Commons. Watch it, but don’t for a moment believe that it portrays the realities of life in those communities featured, nor that the residents are happy with it.

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