Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Welfare and the broadcast media: has something changed? The other day I was contacted by a TV production company seeking my help in recruiting children and young people for a documentary programme about their experience of poverty. Obviously contacts like these are now subtly different, post-Benefits street: but in what way? Would another production company dare to treat people who experience exclusion in the way the producers of Benefits street did? Well, yes, quite possibly. There may be a different atmosphere now, but it does feel just like the no-brainer of press regulation, with plenty of empty words spouted so that journalists can go on manipulating disempowered people in the interests of corporate profit. Against that, I would so much like there to be a broadcast of the voices and experiences of young people like those we reproduced in A series of doors. That could have some impact, and would be worth striving for. But don’t hold your breath, there isn’t going to be a TV version of A series of doors. I passed on the request in a neutral way, but I’ll be surprised if there are any takers. There’s a question here about disregarding this opportunity as being ‘wrong channel’ – in two senses. First, I won’t reveal which TV channel is expected to broadcast the documentary, but it’s one which has done nothing to accumulate trust in the quality of its programmes. Secondly, is there an argument for turning backs on mainstream broadcast media – which, with a few exceptions, have let so many people down through callous, politicised and exploitative behaviour - in favour of all-out social media? Will social media come to outplay TV, in spite of the well-known problems of trolls and trash, where issues of this kind are concerned? Does the Benefits street rumpus represent a watershed in the history of the popular politics of welfare, in which the great artilleries of the broadcast industries are finally discredited and the guerrilla style of social technologies might be seen, retrospectively at least, to right some wrongs? (OK, well let me have my moment of optimism, I need it). If you’re sceptical about the role that media companies play in the creation of an uncaring society, you might want to glance over at the Diary of a Benefit Scrounger: Sue Marsh has blogged in some detail about her experience in this respect. She makes clear that it’s not just the media companies: the government is playing a canny game by declining to debate welfare, as Marsh explains: ‘For some time now, the DWP and No.10 have refused to put anyone up against me. (and presumably other campaigners) at all. At first, 3 (all BBC) went ahead, but the various researchers were all genuinely shocked at the lack of government engagement. All said they'd never known such blanket refusals to debate an issue. Perhaps more sinisterly, they were shocked that invariably the DWP refused to take part unless the stories were edited their way. Iain Duncan-Smith has written repeatedly and furiously to the BBC...

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