Following on from yesterday’s out-takes from the rally we hear some more from the remaining three speakers – Author and Columnist for The Independent Owen Jones, Natalie Bennett from the Green Party, and Helen Belcher from Trans Media Watch, who spoke about how the media coverage of the transgender community and its individuals has had a negative impact on the lives of many:
Poor media reporting has a direct impact on trans people’s lives. It can place us in danger. It creates incorrect stereotyping which can lead to loss of jobs, friends and family. My own father hasn’t spoken to me for ten years because of the media coverage of trans people and the impression it has given him. And the media coverage has been incessant.In February last year I gave evidence at the Leveson inquiry on trans media coverage. Robert Jay and Lord Justice Leveson kindly listened to me for an hour giving example after example of poor reporting and the impact it had. Most of the examples were from the preceding year, some from the preceding month, and one from the previous day. We included 10 case studies which we asked ot be kept completely confidential becaue the survivors of those events were terrified of being subjected to further ordeals.
Yet, just three weeks after the Leveson report the tabloids were at it again, and they outed Lucy Meadows who had the nerve to transition while being a primary school teacher. Despite the support of a vast majority of parents, teachers, pupils and governors, the press found one parent upon which they could pin outrage. The harassment by journalists and photographers went on for over two weeks, even though the articles were done within three days. Meadows took her own life….and the coroner at the inquest slammed the press and their coverage.
The tabloids leapt on the defence that Meadows made no explicit link between her suicide and the press coverage. But the evidence that surrounded her, including some that we as we as Trans Media Watch were able to provide to the coroner, indicated the press coverage had indeed, had a substantial effect upon her life and state of mind.
Her death has raised some serious questions for the press to answer. At the moment it’s not clear whether the press have decided to go quiet and play nice for a bit, or whether there is some serious soul searching going on…
Trans coverage is a microcosm of press behaviour. David Adam Green commented that it’s ‘how the corporate would exploit anyone if they could’.
We need effective regulation with teeth. And we need a change in culture in editorial offices. A culture that educates and informs rather than exploits for titilation. A culture that reports things in the public interest rather than the half baked notion of what the public might be interested in. A culture overall, of accuracy dignity and respect.
Helen Belcher, Trans Media Watch
We still see newspapers acting as outriders for the government, showing policies in a very critical light. And sidelining opponents of those policies. Now I can think of one too many senior journalists, who as well as having the roles as commentators, double-up as speechwriters for senior politicians. Just think it through, you have seen journalists who write articles talking about a government’s record and the policies they’re outlining, while at the same time preparing speeches in support of those policies. That, if anything just shows the incestuous relationship that exists between the political and the media elite.And also, as we’ve been discussing the attacks on entire groups of people in this country. We could go on all evening. We could talk about Muslims for example. How, there was one study in 2007, which just took one random sample – one week of newspapers, and it found, of the coverage of when Muslims appeared, 91% showed Muslim people in an entirely negative light. When they appear in the press it’s invariably as terrorists, extremists and it has consequences on public attitude.
Look at the polling, it’s pretty disturbing – 45% of people think there’s too many Muslims in this country. Imagine if 45% of people in a poll thought there were too many Jews in this country. If you look at the polling of people equating Muslims with extremists, it counts as millions of people across the country. That changes in generations. The younger you are, the less likely you are to believe it. Partly, because you’re more likely like myself, to grow up in schools where you’re likely to mix with fellow Muslims. But, if your only experience of people from that community is what you’ve been served up in the press, then no wonder those attitudes are so horrendous. And of course that has consequences for Muslims across the country. And we’ve seen a renewed wave of Islamophobia since the tragic death of Lee Rigby. You can see it as we’ve talked about it with benefit receipients.
Now since this government have come to power, we’ve seen a deliberate attempt to re-direct people’s anger away from those who caused this crisis – the people at the top, to people’s neighbours down the street. The working poor against the unemployed. Non disabled people against disabled people. Private sector workers against public sector workers. People living here against immigrants. And each time it’s the same argument: ‘You’ve been mugged, so your less deserving neighbour should be mugged as well.’ Now the media have facilitated that in the most overt way imaginable, by hunting the most extreme examples and passing them off as if they’re the tip of the iceberg. The scrounger living in a house made out of widescreen television sets with 50 feral kids running around. And of course the lowest point was two months ago, after a verdict about Philpott – a horrendous monster, a misogynist, who burned down his home and killed his six children, appeared on the front page of the Daily Mail as the ‘Vile Product of Welfare UK.’ As though this horrendous killer said anything about benefit recipients, in the way we can say Harold Shipman told us about GPs.
This is what we constantly see – the hunting down of these extreme stories and it has a political agenda. At the same time, they set the parameters of what we see as poltically possible, the neo-liberal idea of mass privatisation and deregulation seen as common sense, mainstream, moderate. While policies which are supported by a mass majority of the population are seen as wacky, out there, not to be discussed in any rational way. Re-nationalisation of railways, it’s even a third choice of conservative voters. There was a poll which was done a few months ago – yougov did it. It showed nearly 60% supported a 75% tax on people earning £1m or more, including 40% of tory voters. But these are policies which a journalist in the mainstream press would never give the time of day to. They’re seen as wacky, out there and extreme.
This is why a conscience clause is so important, to enable journalist to be able, without fear of dismissal, to stand up and not have to do reports or write pices which are false, or indeed got at through illegal means.
Owen Jones, Author – Chavs: The demonisation of the working class
Now maybe some of you professional readers, read the Daily Mail, unfortunately I have to for professional reasons, and you’ll be reading quite often about these families with 10 children or more on out-of-work benefits. What you might not know, I looked up the figures on this, is there is around 100 families in the whole of Britain that fit that criteria. And if you read the Daily Mail, you know practically all of them by name.
And lots of people reading the Daily Mail think that this is your typical benefit recipient. And that is one sign of the kind of damage the media we have now, does to our politics, and it’s unchallenged. And we have to challenge it.
We also have to encourage the good bits of our media.
Many of you might know about the group collectively known as the Barnet Bloggers who did a huge amount to expose the dreadful Brian Coleman, who’s just been expelled from the Tory party. And it was the bloggers, the independent media, the citizen’s journalists, who really created the situation that made that happen.
So what we need to do is not despair.
Of course, we need to tackle the ownership question. I was actually with some people in this room at a meeting in Bournemouth, and at that meeting I met a new word, it’s almost unpronounceable – the ‘berlusconi-lisation’ of the media in Europe. And that just sums it up perfectly for where we are now with ownership, and where we need to get away from.
I agree with Harriet Harman, that’s not something I say often, but a 15% ownership cap I think would be absolutely a brilliant place to start. And she’s preparing cross party talks on that.
We need to find a way to help fund a lot more of that kind of [independent] journalism. I think the idea of some kind of tax, perhaps on online adverts, as a way of having a public service model or licence fee to fund independent journalism is an excellent idea.
Above all, what we absolutely must say is that good quality, independent journalism is absolutely essential for our democracy. I think looking at the turn-out in elections these days, you look at the state the public views their MPs, we have a big problem with our democracy, and one of the things we need to do is fix our media and our press to fix our democracy.
Natalie Bennett, Green Party Leader