Shaping Public Opinion: The Media's Response to Iain Duncan Smith's Speech
Before or after any major political speech, news articles often consist of little more than the speech itself. As methods of communication over the internet improve, and scepticism about the truthfulness of media reporting increases, simply copying and pasting a speech of a prominent political figure has become an easy way for news organisations to present opinion without being held accountable for the views expressed. Indeed, most written coverage about political speeches is composed of a short introduction followed by extracts from the speech itself annotated with “he/she will say” or “he/she said” at the end of each paragraph. Coverage often begins well before the speech is delivered, as advance copies are sent to the media to ensure a solid grounding in the day’s news.
Friday’s (1st June) big news was the speech, which urged employers to hire British staff, naturally fuelled many papers and their readers with what they wanted to hear - as Paul Vallely writes today in the Independent, "Iain Duncan Smith has picked up the chords to Gordon Brown's tune on immigration, because voters like that refrain". The Daily Mail hailed Duncan Smith as the “Minister who dares to speak the truth” in it’s pre-reporting of the speech. The paper, which has a long history of xenophobia, as well as a history of lawsuits for libellous reporting, will naturally refer to any speech that falls within the bounds of their outlook as the ‘truth’.
There is, of course, a legal issue which arises when the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions urges employers to neglect legislation intended to ensure equal opportunities for those with the right to work in the UK. The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow referred to lawyers who “questioned the legality of giving preference to a British applicant over an equally well-qualified European Union migrant”, but the legal implications of the speech did not receive as much coverage as they were perhaps due. The debate throughout the day focussed instead on the competency of British workers after David Frost from the British Chambers of Commerce said that “[Employers] expect young people to… have a good work ethic, and too often that's not the case [with British applicants]".
Sir Andrew Green of MigrationWatch UK said that “Iain Duncan Smith is absolutely right”. MigrationWatch UK, an "independent think tank", with a board consisting largely of ex-government staff members and diplomats, states on their website that they are “not opposed to immigration that is moderate and managed. At present it is neither”. David Pallister has researched the backgrounds of those on the council, who see it as their duty to regularly voice their concerns about the growth of ethnic minority populations in the UK.
In a time of severe austerity which has so far failed to improve the UK economy, it presumably becomes convenient for the government to shift the blame and suggest that immigrants are responsible for unemployment. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) have for instance suggested that governments Comprehensive Spending Review and the VAT Rise at the start of 2011 when combined will result in the loss of a further 1.6m jobs by 2016.
News and speeches like this may well give comfort to many unemployed workers as they search for a party to blame for the lack of opportunities available to them. The speech will, no doubt – like David Cameron’s speeches on the 5th February (Multiculturalism has failed) and 14th April (problems with immigration) – help to stir up anti-immigration sentiment.
The practice of newspapers regurgitating political rhetoric may be a symptom of a decreased workforce of journalists ‘out on the streets’ coupled with a boom in government employed PR consultants. Nick Davies discusses in his book Flat Earth News the boom in government PR work since the 80s, citing an example that over 310 government press officers had been hired in the first two years of Blair’s term in office. (1) Through the constant quoting of a speech, the notion of balance appears as real as it does in (for example) a newspaper interview. The reality of this is a medium in which information is more or less controlled from the source to the public, and is very effective in narrowing and controlling public opinion and debate.
1. Davies, Nick (2009). Flat Earth News. London: Chatto & Windus, p. 86
|Categories in which this article appears: The Telegraph | The Guardian | BBC News | Immigration | Politics ||
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|1. Lois||11 September 2011 16:58|
|2. Danny||24 August 2012 11:42|
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