SPERI’s latest British Political Economy Brief presents new analysis of newspaper coverage of the financial crisis and austerity. A new study by Luke Temple analysed 1,000 quotes from named individuals in articles concerning the financial crisis, recession or austerity in five national newspapers between 2007 and 2014. The findings of the study show how the coverage portrayed people as ‘dehumanised consumers’ rather than victims of a calamity’.
The Brief shows that a neoliberal narrative has permeated much of the newspaper coverage of hard economic times in the UK since 2007. Quotes and claims from political, market and civil society actors are shown to all draw from a similar framework of reference: treating people primarily as ‘market citizens’, arguably stripping them of their social and political traits. The Brief considers whether the presentation of people in the media as ‘spenders and consumers’ instead of rounded human beings may affect how we respond to the current economic situation.
The study also looks at the two main UK political parties and compares the difference between the language used by both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party in government and opposition, as well as considering the language used by civil society groups.
Luke Temple, the Brief’s author, said:
“Whenever the effect of the crisis, recession or austerity on people was discussed, it was generally framed in terms of their productivity or spending power. Issues like health or poverty were side-lined.”
“In 2010 and 2011, Mervyn King, then the Governor of the Bank of England, made comments to the Trade Union Congress and the Treasury Select Committee questioning why the British public were not angrier about the dire and worsening economic situation. Part of the answer should focus on limited resources and depoliticisation. However, the evidence provided here leads us to suggest that part of the answer also lies in the permeation of a neoliberal narrative across the news coverage of these Events|News.”
“If economic crisis is reified as a macro problem outside of human control – almost as a natural disaster – and if human beings are presented not as the victims of this calamity but rather as dehumanised consumers, it is harder for emotions such as anger to emerge through solidarity and compassion.”