We have been told how there is “massive public support” for benefit caps and on the rare occasion a newsreader interviews someone who is against cuts, whoever he or she may be, will be hectored and bullied by the interviewer. Anti-austerity commentators will always be asked the same loaded questions about cuts. “You realize that there is a need for cuts” and “The country has no money to pay for x, y and z” are two of the most overused questions in the mainstream media’s lexicon. The disabled and benefit claimants are in the government’s line of fire, for it is they who have now been accused of ruining the economy along with the “bloated” public sector.
In 1988, Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman put their heads together and wrote the highly influential Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. The right hate it. Not because it was co-written by Chomsky – they hate him too – but because it kicks a massive hole in their thesis that we live in a “free society” that has a “free press”, where all of us enjoy “free speech”.
The basis of Chomsky and Herman’s argument is that there is a propanganda model to which all corporate-owned media adheres. The four identifying features (filters) of the propaganda model are as follows:
- Ownership of the medium
- Medium’s funding sources
- Anti-communist ideology
With regard to 5, we can replace this with the more useful “ideological” in order to cover all forms of dissent from the government line. If we use the BBC as our exemplar, then the model is fleshed out as follows.
- Ownership: owned by the state in what is euphemistically referred to as an “arm’s length relationship”.
- Funding: the license payer and to some extent the state.
- Sourcing: ‘news’ often comes from government, corporate or City press briefings, press releases and so forth. A great deal of information is taken from pro-free market think tanks. Self-styled economic ‘experts’ like Ruth Lea or David Buik are brought into the studio to attack any dissenting point of view or to give ‘expert’ analysis.
- Flak: attacks on any voice that is not consistent with the government line. Viewers emails are aired to give an impression of consent. Example: “Major Payne of Tunbridge Wells emailed us to say, your guest was just as bad as the scroungers. I’d put them into forced labour camps”.
- Ideological: opposed to any alternative point of view on the economic crisis by spouting the government line and using government phraseology to rebut those points of view.
Examples of pro-austerity broadcasting includes programmes as Saints and Scroungers.
The BBC explains the show’s ‘mission’,
Dominic Littlewood follows fraud officers as they bust the benefits thieves stealing millions of pounds every year, while charities and councils track down people who actually deserve government help
Dominic Littlewood: the people’s champion.
Saints and Scroungers gives the impression that benefit fraud is widespread. Littlewood’s hard man voiceover adds drama to the footage.
This video gives a taste of the programme
Programmes like Saints and Scroungers and Panorama insert the notion in the public mind that ‘your’ taxes are being used to support villains and parasites, some of whom own yachts and Bentleys. The impression is often given by these programmes that every person on benefits is a potential criminal. The numbers of people wrongly claiming benefits is often exaggerated and there are some people who are reluctant to claim any form of benefit for fear of being accused of ‘scrounging’.
But the BBC isn’t alone in this assault on the poor or the disabled. The press, as we know, are guilty of this too. In Thursday’s Sun, Rod Liddle claimed that “disability” was “fashionable” and told his readers that it was his “New Years resolution” to fake disability, citing ME and fibromyalgia as those conditions that he’d most like to have.
Here’s an image of the article.
Delingpole defended him on Telegraph blogs with an article titled “The fake disabled are crippling our economy”. This is not only inaccurate; it is a part of an ongoing attempt to scapegoat the disabled. The suggestion being made by Liddle and Delingpole is that all disabled claimants are cheating the system. They, of course, deny this and their legion of defenders respond by saying, “They’re only attacking the cheats”. The simple truth is that attacks on disabled people have increased sharply over the last few years, helped in no small part by a potent mix of negative news stories of ‘scroungers’ and ‘cheats‘ and government rhetoric.
Using scapegoats to deflect attention away from the real causes of the economic crisis is typical for a government of millionaires who are eager to present themselves as ‘caring’ and in touch. The real causes of the recession are never dealt with and are blamed on a variety of things from the disabled and unemployed to the Euro. Everything and everyone else is accused of “destroying” the economy but the real villain: free-market capitalism. This is a form of sociopathy; the lies, the deception, the bullying, the charm and the desire to dominate others are all characteristics exhibited by this Tory-led regime. However, Labour aren’t entirely blameless. The Blair and Brown governments were committed to reducing the numbers of people claiming Incapacity Benefit and forcing those people into work – whether they were capable of working or not. The press produced story after story of benefit ‘cheats’ who were caught scamming the system. The phrase “sick note culture” had entered the popular vocabulary.
When this Tory-led government came to power in 2010, George Osborne made the bold claim that benefit fraud was costing the country £5 billion a year and evoked the magic words “costing the hardworking taxpayer”. Peter Oborne wrote:
However that figure is not true. I have now been onto the Treasury and it is clear that the real figure for fraud in the benefits system is £1.5 billion a year, or less than one third of the sum which Osborne claimed in his spending statement. It is true that there were benefit overpayments of some £5.2 billion in the last financial year (2009/10) but the majority of these according to HMRC figures were error rather than fraud.
Even Citywire admitted that tax evasion cost the Exchequer more than benefit fraud:
At £30 billion per year, fraud in the UK is more than twice as high as thought, with tax evasion costing the public purse over £15 billion per year and benefit fraud just over £1 billion.
Aside from attacks on the disabled and the poor, the government has also insisted that Britain is “running record levels of debt” and that debt, it insists, will be passed on to “future generations”. The question that they and their partners-in-crime repeatedly ask is “Is it fair to saddle our children with this generation’s debt”? But this is a loaded question that is not based on fact rather, it is based on the notion that government finances and domestic finances operate in the same way. This fallacy is repeated by a number of people who accept the government’s position without question. In a recent interview on BBC News on an entirely unrelated issue (High Speed 2), the actor Geoffrey Palmer repeated, almost line for line, the government’s austerity message. “The country’s broke”, he said, adding that “we can’t afford it (HS2)”. If the country is broke, then it is unlikely to be able to raise money on the international bond markets, which it continues to do. Furthermore, it would be unable to continue the costly and disastrous war in Afghanistan, which cost Britain in excess of £20 billion in 2010.
The government and their media allies continues to demonize and scapegoat the most vulnerable people in society. On last Thursday’s Question Time, Melanie Phillips repeated the topsy-turvy logic of the LM Network that the “bankers are being scapegoated”. This is what passes for morality in the eyes of those who take part in BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze, where those who comment on morality have no qualifications in the subject on which they pontificate – none of them are moral philosophers nor would it appear that any of them have as much as an undergraduate degree in philosophy.
The government hates the very thought of opposing points of view and we can see this in the way they will control discourse by accusing those who are anti-austerity of being “deficit deniers”, which is a phrase that is redolent of “Holocaust Denial”. The Morning Star explains:
But unfortunately the word racist – like nazi or even Holocaust denier – is so emotive, connotes such horrible things and is so insulting that it can intimidate people into silence and shut down reasoned debate, much like deficit denier.
The Labour Party has fallen into the trap of not wanting to be seen as “deficit deniers”, which has brought them closer and closer to the government’s position on cuts. So much for meaningful and effective opposition to this government then. The phrase “deficit denier” is based on a logical fallacy. It is a connotation fallacy; an appeal to insult – the classic ad hominem. Unable to fashion a logical and coherent argument for their austerity measures, government ministers concoct insults to silence their critics.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this government is philosophically bankrupt and must resort to bullying and outright lies to convince the public of the need for austerity, but it wouldn’t be able to do this without the media’s fawning complicity.