When it comes to TV and pop culture, I am no snob. I watch all sort of dubious guff. The X Factor: Guilty. Big Brother: Guilty. The Voice: Guilty. Jeremy Kyle: Used to, got bored, so not any more. Top Gear: No, because I don’t drive, However, there is one particular area of the box that I try to avoid like the plague, which is the current crop of Benefits St-type programmes, or, if you will, Claimant Porn, that seem to be on the increase. They would just cause more ire in me than it’s worth. Even if there are attempts within these shows to balance the portrayals of the folk involved, as I’ve heard programme makers assert, I think many of us know how and why these series get commissioned. They feed directly into the general open season on welfare-receivers, the ideology of which is spear-headed by politicians, and shored up by some quarters of the media. So, lest my pee begins to boil, I intentionally steer clear from the worst excesses of televisual benefits-bashing. But neither am I a serial, fist-shaking, Mr Angry letter-of-complaint writer and neither could I muster enough righteous indignation to sign the e-petition to get Clarkson fired. However..
The other day I watched a report on the BBC’s Six O’ Clock News, which lit a flame, wee-wee-wise. I took to Twitter and FB for a brief moan. But then later, the same report, the Ten O’ Clock News, set my waters to full, searing bubble. After sleeping on it, I decided to complain directly via the BBC online facility. I did so, not because I felt the report was glaringly anti-benefit claimant, but rather, It seemed lazily, insidiously misleading. More than anything, it was an insult to the intelligence and treated it’s audience like dim-bulbs. Allow me to illuminate..
On 27th Mar, during the Six O’ Clock News, there was a filmed report on the possible nature of further cuts to the welfare bill planned by the Tories, should they be returned to government. It marked out disability and sickness benefits and hypothesised as to the billions that that might be saved by taxing these particular benefits. At the end of the report was a visual of the back of a male hoodie walking along a high street, past a betting shop. I was immediately irked, as I wondered what this concluding, take-home image had to do with disability and sickness. It seemed superfluous and out of place. I posted a brief moan online about it, then having got it off my chest, watched Masterchef where someone made a Scallop Soufflé that had all the judges gagging. An hour later, I was gagging myself..
Come Ten O’ clock and the news again, and a repeat of the report I’d watched earlier. I watched again carefully. Hey, guess what? The hoodie image was excluded. I wondered for a fleeting moment whether the Beeb had received some complaints similar to my tweet, and that’s was why that bit had been cut out. But then..then..hmm.. the logic and reasoning section of my brain made up some slack, and suddenly caught up with my frontal lobes. Forget the hoodie, it whispered to me, what about that bit near the beginning of the report? You didn’t even notice that bit before. I mentally replayed the piece..
Had I heard correctly? Yes, the BBC reporter’s explanatory VO had said (this is a close approximation), ‘Disability and Sickness benefits are there to help communities in times of need’. This was said over a visual shot of a housing estate. Now, if this had been a report about Food Banks, then that statement would not have rang an alarm bell. But this was not about Food Banks, this was about Disability Benefits, which are there to help individuals from any and every walk of life, in any situation who are unlucky enough to become chronically sick or disabled. To my mind, this Playschool-ish précis into Disability Living Allowance and PIP, was wholly misleading, in an insidious way, almost subliminal in it’s intent to conjure up the idea that the majority of the sickness benefits are given to whole communities of working class estate-dwellers, receiving hand-outs, en masse. Incorrect, illogical and propagandizing and pathetic. Whoever put this together has been watching too many of those Benefits St programmes, I thought. So I tapped out my brief complaint, ( below) for all the good it will do. I will await their reply with little hope of it being anything but a fudging, empty and illogical one.
In the mean time, I shall continue to watch the news, Masterchef and probably The Voice, for my sins. But I will continue to swerve Britain’s Biggest Scroungers et al, like the plague. Hang on, maybe I should watch all those of shows on catch-up, then make a new sickness benefit claim, citing a creeping ennui-causing, plague-like condition, brought on by over- exposure to bias and misinformation in the media..
On 27th Mar 2015, I watched a report on the BBC news at 6pm and again at 10pm, regarding further possible government cuts to sickness and disability benefits. In the 6pm broadcast, the report concluded with an image of a male wearing a hood, walking past a betting shop. I could not understand what this had to to with sickness and disability, as the male was not visually disabled in any way. On the repeat of this report, at 10pm, that image did not appear, but I was perturbed by the voice over at the beginning of the report which said that ‘disability benefits are to help communities in times of need’. This statement was accompanied by an image of a housing estate. I found this to be very strange reporting, as disability benefits are meant to help individuals from all backgrounds. The use of the word ‘communities’ was strange in this context and the implication to someone who did not know better, could be that there are whole ‘communities of people on working class estates, all claiming sickness benefits. That, coupled with the second image of a hoodie on the high street, seems to me to constitute misleading visual imagery in a report about disability benefits, which are meant to help individuals from any background, and not whole communities of people on estates. I was extremely disappointed and troubled by the report as I felt it showed bias regarding the type of people who receive sickness and disability benefits in the U.K.
I received a reply from the BBC on 1st April. But it’s fooling no one:
Dear Mr Hurst
Thank you for contacting us regarding BBC news broadcasts on 27 March.
We understand you felt the image of a male wearing a hood and walking passed a betting shop on the ‘News at Six’was not relevant to the report on possible sickness and disability benefit cuts and that the voice over at the start of the report on ‘News at Ten’ which said ‘disability benefits are meant to help communities in time of need’ was also inappropriate.
We used a variety of images in our report which was about cuts to welfare spending in general which also includes unemployment benefit. The images were intended to illustrate the sort of communities likely to be affected by such cuts.
Similarly the voiceover to the ‘News at Ten’ report said ‘welfare spending is meant to help society’s poorest communities in times of need’ and again while people will be affected individually whole communities also will be disproportionally affected particularly if unemployment benefits are reduced.
We value your feedback about this issue. All complaints are sent to senior management and programme makers every morning and we included your points in this overnight report. These reports are among the most widely read sources of feedback in the BBC and ensure your complaint is seen by the right people quickly. This helps inform their decisions about current and future reporting.
Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.