Five out of ten journalists mislead you

uk_newspapers_montage-300x176Anyone who has heard me lecture about the media will know that I have problems with a lot of journalists. Part of it is just the work I did- crisis PR tends to put relationships under pressure, inevitably. But, I do have concerns about how much media bias, media framing, and moral panics are at work, influencing what the public thinks.

Want to test yourself? Take this little quiz:

1. How many lone parents do you think there are out of every 100 people in Britain?

2. For every £100 spent on the Welfare Budget, what percentage is fraudulantly claimed?

3.What percentage of the UK’s population

  • is Muslim?
  • is unemployed?
  • is Black or Asian?
  • is aged 65 or over?
  • are Christian?
  • are immigrants (ie not born in the UK)?

You may be shocked to read what people thought were the answers to the above questions compared with the actual facts. According to IPSOS-MORI’s end of year review,  the 1,000 people surveyed as “representative of the UK’s public” answered as follows:

1.  28 out of 100 parents are “lone parents” (the truth is 3).

2. Out of every £100 spent on the welfare budget, £24 is claimed fraudulently (the truth is 70 pence)

3. Out of the UK population, the respondents thought that the percentage that is

  • Muslim is 22% (the truth is 5%)
  • Unemployed is 22% (the truth is 8%)
  • Black or Asian is 30% (the truth is 11%)
  • Aged 65+ is 36% (the truth is 16%)
  • Christian is 34% (the truth is 59%)
  • Immigrants is 31% (the truth is 13%)

You may be more knowledgeable than the majority of people.  But, my guess is that at least some of your guesses will have been overstating the facts,  because if you read a newspaper, watch television news or get your news online, then you are going to be influenced by how much coverage there is of problems associated with all of the above.  

On the BBC Radio 4 Today programme (arguably, the most influential single media outlet for the “politically aware listener”) the key presenter John Humphreys recently commented on an introduction to a Melvyn Bragg slot about complexity, that the role of a journalist was “to simplify and exaggerate”. It was an off-the-cuff remark that made me sit up and shout back at the radio (yes, I do that on occasion) “At last, you admit it!”

the “News” you read isn’t about facts. It’s about what the media think you want to know, and they will simplify and exaggerate in their efforts to get you to listen to them. That’s media framing- and, be warned, it messes with your head. Do your own research!