Sue Marsh on TV Bias against Covering Welfare Issues

I’ve reblogged Mike’s article and links to Sue Marsh’s post, over at Diary of Benefits Scrounger, on her experience of being downgraded from panel member to a simply member of the audience for Channel 5’s The Big Benefits Row. It’s entitled, ‘The Big Benefits Row’. Like Mike, I can’t reblog her post, but it is definitely worth spreading. All of it is well-worth reading for the insight it gives into the values of ‘medjar’ folk from a woman who has appeared and tried to present the experiences of the disabled themselves on a long line of shows. As a result, she has seen herself side-lined and her views silenced in favour of the usual right-wing ignorant loudmouths. The piece begins

As many of you may know by now, last night was the Big Benefits Row on Channel 5. “Roll up! Roll up for the spectacliar sight! Real life poor people for your viewing delight!”

I was contacted by the show’s producers early. Would I be on a panel to discuss welfare changes? They assured me it would be balanced and to their credit, I do think they worked very hard to make sure a range of views were represented in a way that shows like Benefit Street and On Benefits and Proud neglected entirely. Had I been a beleaguered austerity-junkie audience person, I think I would have had a rare taste of how it feels to find oneself outnumbered.

As the days passed before the show, I got that sneaking feeling I was being downgraded. Perhaps I should explain. I’ve done a lot of media now. Newsnight, BBC News, Sky, Radio 4, Radio 5 Live, LBC and many, many more. The pattern is almost always the same. I’ve learnt never to tweet about bookings until I’m in the actual studio getting miked up. For every 5 approaches, I suppose one might actually come to something.

Initially, the plan is always for real a debate, or a full feature on welfare cuts or a hard hitting doumentary. As the producers of the shows try to get guests to appear to discuss disability welfare cuts in any serious kind of way, they realise the task is almost impossible.

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 about their lack of balance in reporting welfare issues. Anyone who follows the debate with even a flutter of fleeting interest will know just how ironic that is. If ever there has been an issue so poorly reported, with so much ignorance and so many lies, the current “welfare” debate must be it.

But it’s clever isn’t it? Refuse to debate at all and generally it will mean there can be no debate. You can shut down any and all opposition simply by saying nothing at all.

Later in the article she describes her experience of selective editing, having her piece cancelled without anyone ever telling her, and finding the show’s format changed to allow the usual media loudmouths to present a diatribe of abuse against her and the disabled in general.

I’ve been edited to make me look like a “shirker”, I’ve hauled my crohn’s riddled butt all the way to London only to be told “Oh, sorry, it’s not happening now, did no-one let you know?” I’ve been booked for shows under the pretence that a particular subject-du-jour is the subject only to be ambushed scrounger bashing vitriol the moment we go live. (Yes Nick Ferrari, I do mean you.) I’ve been made to walk to locations, despite pointing out repeatedly that I can’t walk far or stand for very long. “If you could just manage…..”

I’ve uncovered vast and shocking welfare stories only to find I can’t get them published anywhere. Bumped for Egypt. Bumped for Syria. Bumped for chickens in cat outfits. (That last one’s not even sarcasm!?!) Repeatedly I hear in a loop “But welfare isn’t a story.”

Well no, why would it be? The current social security cuts are stripping away an eye-watering £28 BILLION from the support and services sick and disabled people rely on just to get through the day. That’s a full FIFTH of the entire deficit reduction plan falling on those who often have no voice to defend themselves. One pound in every five!!!

She also notes the problem she and four other wheelchair users experience just getting into the building, and then the highly patronising attitude of the studio staff over where they should be put. Now, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve been on a course at M Shed, one of the Museum’s in Bristol. When you volunteer to help them, they give you training on how to talk and interact with members of the public. Much of this is simple common courtesy. The guidelines state that when a disabled person turns up with a carer or non-disabled person, you talk to both of them. As I said, just common courtesy, and hardly rocket science. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to have occurred to the TV professionals charged with presenting these issues to the great British public.

Having only needed to use a wheelchair for just under a year, the reality of disabled access has shocked and appalled me too. Did you know for instance that most trains only have ONE disabled space and so can only take one wheelchair user? No, I had no idea either. And did you know that you can’t get in to most restaurants and shops despite access being a legal responsibility? Nope, nor me. Or that supermaket aisles often make it impossible to get around a shop independently? Or that you can’t use almost any of the London Underground?I didn’t know any of that stuff

When we got to the Channel 5 studio an epic confuddle broke out. As I’ve also learnt, they often do when some people are faced with several people on wheels all at once. They could only take 3 wheelchairs. 4 would apparently tip the building over into a dangerous and unforgivable fire risk. They couldn’t evacuate four of us!

I’d been trying not to cry for about two hours by this point and the only way we were all going to get in was if I left my wheelchair in the foyer and hobbled down to the basement studio. I was the only one who could walk at all.

Once on the set, even bigger confuddlement broke out. “You can’t put them here, they’re in the way of the cameraman” (I thought the “them” was a nice little dehumanizing detail eh?) “You can’t let them sit at the front, it makes them look too important” (I precis) etc etc. After at least 10 minutes of this infathomable conundrum, Mik shouted to the audience who were now in their seats ready for the show to begin. “Get a job they say?? Are you watching this? Most of the time, we can’t even get a bloody seat!”

She states she found the show remarkably unbiased, but was naturally intensely disappointed about not being allowed to speak about the problems faced by the disabled. She includes some of the facts that you won’t see on the news anytime soon.

However, I could barely breathe with pent up frustration. As each part of the show went live again following an ad break, I’d pray that something would be said about disability and every time it wasn’t, I deflated further and further (DON’T be a crybaby on national TV…DON’T be a crybaby on national TV….DON’T be a crybaby on national TV, repeat) How are you suppoed to have a debate about social security and not include sick and disabled people? We rely on it more than any other group! Here’s a few facts, just in case you’ve never read this blog before

Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is being cut by 20%
The criteria to qualify for DLA slashed has been by 60%
1 MILLION people are to be stripped of Employment and Support Allowance
The Independent Living Fund has bee scrapped**
1500 people lost their jobs as Remploy factories were all closed
Just 3% of the entire welfare budget goes to unemployed people
Social security fraud is around £1.2 Billion per year – less than half of 1%, or 0.15% of total welfare budget. That’s just £1.50 lost for every thousand or 0.15% of the total welfare
The DWP pay out much more in their own errors – 2.2 Billion
A whopping £16 BILLION goes unclaimed, generally to avoid the stigma of “welfare”
We have some of the toughest criteria for claiming social security in the developed world.
Is our UK social security systemn too generous? No again. In international terms we come just 46th out of 51, paying some of the lowest benefits anwhere
440,000 sick or disabled people will be hit by the Bedroom Tax. That’s over 2 thirds.

She concludes her post by saying that she believes the neglect of disabled issues and the effects of the government cuts is simply due to the fact that most media people simply don’t see it as an issue, rather than anything similar. She does, however, ask her readers to publicise and retweet her article to spread awareness of it and the intensely harmful effects of the Coalition’s cuts.

‘And yet again my friends, we shall have to make our own news. If you’ve read to this point, PLEASE don’t close the page until you’ve shared it with your networks. You can use the buttons just below to retweet or post it to Facebook. But PLEASE, if you can support us in any way, sharing this article can show producers of shows like the Big Benefits Row that we DO have a voice, we DO matter.

As campaigners we’ve often reminded ourselves that “Alone we whisper, but together we shout.”

I imagine that the producers of last nights BBR got a better offer than me. Someone with a higher profile who they thought might attract more viewers. Some suggested it could be more sinister than that, but I’m convinced that for most affluent, white, able-bodied producers, long term ilness or disability simply doesn’t come on to their radar. Another genetically-programmed response means we simply cannot believe in our own mortality or believe that any harm can ever cast shadows over our lives.

We can show them – and the public – that on social media if nowhere else, sick and disabled people can -and will – be heard.’

The whole article needs to be read. It’s at http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/the-big-benefits-row.html.

As an aside, regarding her comments on Nick Ferrari, I’ve got a feeling that, like Kelvin MacKenzie, he’s another escapee from the Sun or similar tabloid. They’re too of the reasons why my parents no longer watch Alan Titchmarsh’s chat show in the afternoons. There’s only so much prejudice, ignorance and bile you can take at that time of day.

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