Media Poisoning of Democracy

The UK tabloid media today did something no one thought possible: it actually got worse by Simon Wood (Originally published at The 99.99998271%)

“Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state” -Noam Chomsky

The headline of today’s lead story in the Daily Mail Online:

daily-mailVile product of Welfare UK: Man who bred 17 babies by five women to milk benefits system is guilty of killing six of them

It is a valuable exercise to dissect this headline, as there are several tried and tested propaganda techniques at work:

  1. Use of emotional and subjective terminology in a context that is supposed to be, under standard journalistic guidelines, neutral and objective. ‘Vile’ is a superlative form of ‘bad’; a powerful, subjective adjective.
  2. Use of loaded synonyms. ‘Milk’ is an extremely negative synonym of ‘use’.
  3. Inappropriate vocabulary. The word ‘breed’ is used for animals, not humans.
  4. Focus on dysfunctional lifestyle. The ’17 babies with five women’ detail is included in the headline.
  5. Use of the word ‘product’ creates the false implication that the welfare state directly caused this crime.
  6. False equivalence. A horrific crime directly and causally linked with ‘benefits culture’: ‘Welfare UK’.
  7. Presenting an extreme case as mainstream via the implication that the evil ‘benefits culture’ led to the mass murder of children.
  8. Reinforcing discriminatory terminology (‘benefits culture’) that is commonly used throughout tabloid media in a negative context.

Right out of the propaganda playbook.

If there were any lingering doubts in anyone’s mind that The Daily Mail and other tabloids had an agenda to demonize those exercising their legal (and human) right to claim support from the state when in financial difficulty for whatever reason, this article thoroughly dispelled them. A man, Mick Philpott, along with his co-conspirators were found guilty of committing a horrific crime, one for which they should be punished to the full extent of the law. However, to link this tragedy in an article stock full of emotional language and unfounded assertions to other welfare claimants, the overwhelming majority of whom are law-abiding, is deeply irresponsible, dangerous even.

One thing it is not is journalism.

Compare the opening paragraphs of the Mail and Guardian articles on this story:


A man with a history of violence and controlling younger women was convicted on Tuesday of killing six children in an “evil, stupid, shameful act” as part of a twisted attempt to frame a former lover who had dared to defy him. Mick Philpott, 56, his wife Mairead, 31, and a friend involved in the plot, Paul Mosley, 46, were all convicted of manslaughter after setting ablaze their Derby home, meaning to blame the inferno on Philpott’s former lover, who left him. Instead, the fierce heat and smoke engulfed the home, leading to the deaths of six children aged five to 13 years, including five of Philpott’s 17 children and a son of Mairead from a previous relationship.

Daily Mail:

He treated his 17 sons and daughters like cash cows – generating a staggering benefits income of £60,000 a year.Yesterday, Mick Philpott remained shameless to the last.The drug-taking layabout, who embodies everything that is wrong with the welfare state, was still smiling even after being convicted of killing six of his children.

The Daily Mail does not even tell the reader what has happened until the fourth paragraph, located below a large photograph; it merely piles in with its agenda-driven talking points, using emotional language (shameless to the last, still smiling etc.) designed to invoke outrage in the reader. The apparent motive is written before the crime quite simply because The Daily Mail is only interested in the motive. The crime itself is simply a useful vehicle to spread hate and anger. Compare this with The Guardian, which explains the motive later in its article in neutral, dispassionate fashion.

This may be a low, but it is nonetheless nothing new for the UK tabloid media, where hits on the website drive up advertizing revenue: the number one priority for profit media. It appears to matter not at all if someone’s life or reputation is destroyed or if the fabric of democratic society, which depends on the media for neutral, objective, timely and accurate information, is frayed and ultimately torn to shreds.

And it is dangerous. There exists a real link between what is written in widely-read newspapers and what happens to people. The Daily Mail Online is read by millions of people, some of whom will form some kind of subconscious association between people capable of killing children and utterly unrelated people claiming benefits, skewing public opinion even more sharply in favor of the will of the architects of the campaign against the poor, the disabled, the sick and the vulnerable that has blighted the UK in the last decade or so. With public opinion squarely (and unfairly) set against benefits claimants, it has been possible for laws to be passed that cause great suffering.

A real and direct link.

Some articles this week have spelled out reality with regard to benefits claimants. First, this from Ricky Tomlinson:

Ten lies we are told about welfare (regular tabloid fodder in bold):

1. Benefits are too generous:

Really? Could you live on £53 a week as Iain Duncan Smith is claiming he could if he had to? Then imagine handing back 14% of this because the government deems you have a “spare room”. Could you find the money to pay towards council tax and still afford to eat at the end of the week?

2. Benefits are going up:

They’re not. A 1% “uprating” cap is really a cut. Inflation is at least 2.7% . Essentials like food, fuel and transport are all up by at least that, in many cases far more. Benefits are quickly falling behind the cost of living.

3. Jobs are out there, if people look:

Where? Unemployment rose last month and is at 2.5 million, with one million youngsters out of work. When Costa Coffee advertised eight jobs, 1,701 applied.

4. The bedroom tax won’t hit army families or foster carers:

Yes it will. Perhaps most cruel of all, the tax will not apply to foster families who look after one kid. If you foster siblings, then tough. But these kids are often the hardest to place. Thanks to George Osborne and IDS, their chances just got worse. And even if your son or daughter is in barracks in Afghanistan, then don’t expect peace of mind as the government still has to come clean on plans for their bedroom.

5. Social tenants can downsize:

Really, where? Councils sold their properties – and Osborne wants them to sell what’s left. Housing associations built for families. In Hull, there are 5,500 people told to chase 70 one-bedroom properties.

6. Housing benefit is the problem:

In fact it’s rental costs. Private rents shot up by an average of £300 last year. No wonder 5 million people need housing benefits, but they don’t keep a penny. It all goes to landlords.

7. Claimants are pulling a fast one:

No. Less than 1% of the welfare budget is lost to fraud. But tax avoidance and evasion is estimated to run to £120bn.

8. It’s those teenage single mums:

An easy target. Yet only 2% of single mums are teenagers. And most single mums, at least 59%, work.

9. We’re doing this for the next generation

No you’re not. The government’s admitted at least 200,000 more children will be pushed deeper into poverty because of the welfare changes.

10. Welfare reforms are just about benefit cuts

Wrong. The attack on our welfare state is hitting a whole range of services – privatising the NHS, winding up legal aid for people in debt and closing SureStart centres and libraries. All this will make life poorer for every community.

And this from an article at Darker Net:

1. Anyone in social housing with a spare bedroom will lose 14% of their dole or housing benefit. Those with two or more spare bedrooms will lose 25%. Two-thirds of the people hit by the bedroom tax are disabled. It is estimated that around 700,000 people in social housing will lose an average of £728 a year.

2. Legal aid will be almost impossible to get, particularly affecting family law, child custody, immigration and employment cases.

3. Council tax benefits, claimed by 5.9 million low-income families, will be reduced by 10% and local services will be cut, so creating more unemployment.

4. 6,700,000 families will be worse off as a direct result of the new ‘benefits uprating’ scheme.

5. The long-term sick, the limbless and those dying are being forced into work or lose their benefits as part of the continuing scheme to stigmatise the disabled and the wider propaganda against anyone (‘scroungers’) unable to find work.

6. Work-for-dole schemes, which are specifically aimed at providing the Tories’ business pals with free labour, will continue too, thanks to new legislation being brought in to compensate for a recent court ruling that such schemes were illegal.

7. Privatisation of the National Health Service has begun: thus, its death knoll has been sounded.

These are the facts all our media should be educating everyone with, not shamelessly whipping their readers up into fury and outrage, spreading hate, confusion and misunderstanding; propaganda, as it intentionally skews public opinion against a targeted subsection of society for political/ideological gain. The Daily Mail article is just one in an endless series that damage not only the lives and prospects of real people in society, but also democracy itself.

A system of independent regulation of the media is vital: one which preserves press freedom while also ensuring journalistic principles and guidelines are upheld, with prohibitive punishments for transgressors.

One more thing: those with concerns about the Mick Philpott article who wish to register their complaints can, of course, contact the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). The chairman of the PCC’s Editors’ Code of Practice Committee is Paul Dacre, editor of The Daily Mail. Good luck with that.

Disclaimer: This article solely concerns propaganda in the UK tabloid media and focuses on a headline covering the conviction of Mick Philpott in the Allenton House Fire case to demonstrate it. The author would like to make it clear that this article is absolutely not in any way a defense of either Philpott and his co-conspirators or the apparent motive for this horrific crime.

‘The 99.99998271% – Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy’ by Simon Wood is available for free download. In this 70-page book, the current state of human rights and democracy is discussed, and a simple method of implementing direct democracy is suggested.
Simon Wood on twitter (@simonwood11) and Facebook or at his blog. The Direct Democracy Alliance, a voluntary group dedicated to creating national/global direct democracy, is now also on twitter: (@DDA4586)

Author’s note: For over a year I have been writing detailed articles on human rights and direct democracy, and have written a book on the topic which is freely available. However, despite some small successes, I am yet to make a scratch in any meaningful way that will bring about real change. For this to happen, I need to create an NPO or similar organization devoted to creating and promoting direct democracy. I therefore appeal to any reader who has significant resources, or who has connections to someone who has, to contact me with regard to making a philanthropic donation to bring about a transparent organization with paid, professional staff which can actually make a difference.

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