Headlines – The Daily Mail and the Vulnerable

When I can, I browse the front pages of the newspapers each day. While revealing, they tend to follow fairly consistent patterns of (vested?) interest.

One of the things that struck me about today’s was the focus on the Daily Mail‘s front page on charity cold callers. Much as I hate to give their website any extra traffic, there’s a link to the story here:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3156846/VICTORY-Mail-expose-reveals-shame-charity-cold-call-sharks-PM-pledges-tough-new-laws-tackle-boiler-room-tactics-targeting-elderly-vulnerable.html?ito=social-twitter_dailymailUK

I’m not disputing for a second that it’s a serious issue. However, it worries me that this can be spun by press institutions to divert attention away from other socio-political problems facing vulnerable people, while simultaneously allowing the paper to claim some, highly visible, moral high-ground.

Vulnerable people are facing a diverse range of existing and potential challenges. Issues involving health, disability, mental health, unemployment, poverty, child poverty, homelessness, low (inadequate) pay, hunger, and so on, are all very real and prospects of radical improvements aren’t exactly looking encouraging. However, despite the new challenges laid out in last week’s budget, the Daily Mail chooses to focus on charities as the institutions who pose the most front-page-worthy danger to vulnerable people.

(That this has the additional effect of taking primarily elder people as their vulnerable people of focus may well be simply an unintended effect of the story exposed. To suggest otherwise would indeed risk trivialising dementia, as well as contributing to a narrative in which the elderly, and their circumstances, are all reduced to a single type.)

Clearly there are very real issues to be addressed, but I marvel at the impressive feat being enacted. Charities, and charitable actions, have helped people across the world and in our own country. They have in recent years fed growing numbers in the UK who have been unable to secure an adequate income. That the very charities who should help people are also institutions that exploit them is indeed an important thing to expose and rectify, but should we not also expose, if only to ourselves, the fact that this press institution can use this scandal to reshape the narrative of vulnerability and exploitation at stake in today’s political climate? If there’s a trophy for institutions that target the vulnerable, it seems that the Mail would award it to charities, while keeping quiet about the competition. (Two days ago it made a valiant attempt to award George Osborne the accolade of England’s patron saint…)

The Mail thus entitles itself to claim that it champions the vulnerable, while dragging into implicit disrepute many people and organisations busy helping the people whose vulnerability goes ignored.

(As an important clarification, it should be emphasised that the Mail does not claim that all charities have acted in this fashion. Furthermore, this post in no way wishes to imply that the story is not worthy of exposure and coverage. If anything, it is instead a plea that the press always be so committed to challenging exploitation and injustice.)

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