1st August 2016
By Tom Law

How Poor Journalism Makes Life Worse for People in Poverty

Megan Howe

Journalists and charity campaigners in Britain have joined forces to combat bias in journalism that makes life even worse for people trapped in a world of growing inequality and deprivation.

Reporting the plight of communities struggling to lift themselves out of poverty requires careful and sensitive journalism, but sometimes the poorest people may find themselves targeted by bias in the news.

This has led the National Union of Journalists in the UK and the British-based group Church Action on Poverty to draft new reporting guidelines for journalists and editors and now they plan to make a film to reinforce the message that news media need to set higher standards.

The initiatives come after fresh evidence that impoverished people feel targeted by language and deceptive use of statistics. The groups claim that often media perpetuate the idea that poor people are lazy, exaggerate benefit claims or manage money badly.

As one of those surveyed stated in the guide: “Poverty is not just a lack of money, food, jobs, and so on-it’s also a lack of opportunity.” There were also statements from participants asking the media to treat them with dignity and humanity.

Rachel Broady, NUJ Manchester and Salford branch Equality Officer, said: “It is a concern about language and inaccurate portrayals and the misuse of statistics.” She says some tabloid newspapers are guilty of stereotyping the poor as people who skip work or are committing benefit fraud.

“They allow sections of our communities to be seen as a problem to be dealt with rather than people living through austerity or a hard time,” she said. ““These stories, which are often extreme or sensationalized, have been used to justify benefit cuts or to suggest unemployment is a lifestyle. These stories have a real impact on people’s lives.”

Jackie Cox, Media Coordinator for Church Action on Poverty said: “People feel stigmatised by the way the media reports on poverty.” Speaking at event to launch the guidelines in London earlier this year, Cox said that people in poverty are the real experts on poverty and the feel “demonized” by the way some media write about their situation.

Sian Jones, from the National Union of Journalists said: “What we really want to do with the guidelines is tackle inappropriate language and to use them as a practical tool for journalists and newsrooms.”

To increase awareness of the guidelines there are plans to make a short film about reporting poverty.The film will be funded by donations and produced by The Reporters’ Academy,a non-profit youth media company. The Academy helps young people develop professional media skills and to further their opportunities for advanced education and future careers.

“We think the unique partnership with The Reporters’ Academy would not only benefit our campaign but introduce these young people to the to the importance of ethical reporting,” said Broady.

More information on The Reporters’ Academy and the reporting poverty film is available from Sian Broad [email protected].

This article was updated on 1 August 2016.