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.

10 Responses to “Tower Block of Commons plays into the hands of those crying Broken Britain”

  1. Anne O'Nimmus

    “tiny majority”?

  2. John

    I actually watched this last night and there were some key points to be gleaned from it (but taken with a pinch of salt naturally)

    First I realised that politicans are so out of touch with what ‘poor’ means in this country.

    Second I realised that politicans are effectively ‘useless human beings’ once you take away their phones, Ipod’s, Blackberries and staff.

    I also realised that people living on the bread line are actually trying to end it. A clip from next week shows one lady who went to Asda spent £45 on fags after the MP helped her stay within her food budget.
    Many people will point to this and say “there, they don’t help themselves” – but I see it as a clear sign that this person no longer has any respect for her own life as her addiction shows. Death is an appealing alternative to a life of poverty.

    The best bits were the angry public who shouted rude things at the politicans – mainly because of their expense claims – which made one of the MP’s cry.

    My heart bled for about 10 seconds and then I realised that they all deserve it – the thieving bastards. Didn’t think about that when you greedily claimed for your duck / moat / belfery did you?

    Seeing justice done is rewarding, seeing it done in an angry and aggressive manner is all the more rewarding.

    My biggest wonder was whether the party whips ‘forced’ this task on these unwitting MP’s in an effort to restore the damage done.

  3. Bill Kristol-Balls

    @ John

    Your statement that ‘they all deserve it – the thieving bastards’ is not compatible with the idea of justice which is based on the principle of treating people fairly.

    Not all MP’s acted improperly and so to label them all as ‘thieving bastards’ would in fact be the very definition of injustice.

    You seem happy with the idea of ochlocracy though. Are you perchance a pitchfork salesman?

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  5. Seun Kolade

    This is a very good summary of the debate. I think it’s quite clear that the sources and causes of the problem are multi-faceted, and whereas I am personally inclined to put the bulk of the blame on the media, I think it the point about some Charity’s mode of operation, especially with respect to the presentation and disclosure of information about low-income people, is quite strong. Finally, and this apply both to charities and the media, I think the description of people as ‘low-income’, rather than ‘poor’, is more suitable in the effort and need to preserve individual dignity. ‘Poor’ seem to carry with it a connotation of pathetic, and perhaps permanent, helplessnes. As Amartya Sen noted, ‘a system of support that requires people to be identified as poor would tend to have some effects on one’s self-respect as well as on respect by others’

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