The media are ubiquitous in our daily lives. From the moment we get up until the moment we go to bed, we live and breathe in a media-saturated world. Satellite T.V such as Sky and Virgin Media provides us with a growing number of channels, thus giving us access to 24-hour news, radio and programs that provide us with round the clock coverage of current events. With their many forms, media have a huge potential to shape and influence our beliefs, as we, the general public are limited in our ability to evaluate the accuracy of the stories that are presented to us through the media. By studying media portrayals of social welfare, it is possible to offer insight into public opinions on this topic. This study presents the results of a content analysis of 9 newspaper articles. This study can improve social welfare portrayals and increase public understanding.
As social welfare is becoming increasingly common in the media, more evidence is becoming available to the general public about how prominent the government’s involvement social welfare actually is, and how, at times it is unjust. With the majority of mainstream media in Ireland owned and controlled by Denis O’Brien, it is extremely likely that highly politicised issues reflect the beliefs of dominant social groups. We as an audience are unlikely to have any direct personal experience or specific background knowledge of the issue, feeling there is no need to deconstruct these stories, assuming that what is portrayed to us must be true
Content analysis is the process in which one can “Identify the intentions …detect the existence of latent propaganda” (Devereux 2014). In this research paper, both quantitative and qualitative research methods are used in order to analyse discourse, narrative and framing. Quantitative methods were used in order to identify key and recurring words. Analysis of the structure and the discourse of these articles was carried out through qualitative research.
It is clear from analysing these articles that negative connotations are widely associated with Social Welfare in the media. For example “Dole Cheats” as seen in an article by the Irish Daily Mail. Furthermore, the use of striking and harsh words such as “Clampdown” and “Crackdown” is seen in venerate newspapers such as the Irish Independent and the Sunday Business Post.
In regards to discourse analysis, one must examine the way in which media communicates hegemonic and other forms of knowledge. These articles on social fraud are structured in a way that conveys the media professional’s views and then reinforces them throughout the article through biased ‘facts’ to reinforce these perspectives and imposes them on the public.
Social welfare fraud
Headlines such as ‘Dole Millions Claimed From Inside Prison’ have also hit our newspapers in recent times. Exaggerated figures are given to us to make the situation seem worse than it is in order to persuade to their own point of view. According to the Minister of State Fergus O’Dowd, ‘The Government believes it can save €600m by tackling social welfare fraud.’ The claim that the level of social welfare fraud is €600 million is a false claim. Firstly, the €600 million figure is not the actual amount of fraud in the social protection system. It is what is known as a ‘control saving’. Control savings are calculated by applying validated multipliers to the difference in the rate of payment before and after the control activity. Secondly, the €600 million control saving does not refer specifically to fraud, but to ‘over-payments’. These occur when there is a mistake by the applicant/recipient , there is a mistake by the administration, or finally, if there is a fraud. Fraud makes up only a minority of over-payments and is considerably lower than the numbers being used in the public debate: €26 million, or 0.1% of the entire Social Protection budget.
Unfortunately, this is not an ‘attention grabbing’ figure. It does not make for screaming headlines or even louder commentators shouting for a clampdown on cheats and layabouts. It does not make for an anti-welfare agenda. All it does is make for a more accurate debate.
Foreign Nationals are portrayed in a predominantly negative light with regards to Social Welfare Fraud issues in the media.
This emphasis is highlighted in the title of the articles generally speaking and throughout the body of the text. For example, an esteemed newspaper, the Irish Independent published an article in 2013 titled “(EURO) 6k of Social Welfare fraud; ZIMBABWEAN NATIVE IN COURT”. The fact that they are immediately racializing the article displays the “cultural fears of ‘otherness’” spoken about in a paper by Chris Greer and Yvonne Jewkes entitled “Extremes of Otherness: Media Images of Social Exclusion”.
From reading these articles, it is clear that these media professionals are using sources such as government officials and others that share their perspective. The media are only portraying one side of the story. They fail to address the views and opinions of the subjects of the articles. However, they conveniently manage to get a wealth of information from the authorities.
Equality of opportunity is an ideology that strives to defeat discrimination that is based on age, gender, color, race, etc. It seems the media are unjustly portraying people from different ethnic backgrounds as the main fraudsters when it comes to social welfare issues. For example, another article written by the Irish Independent in March 2013 speaks of an Irish man who claimed €7,520, which he was not entitled to. In comparison to the previous two articles which spoke of foreign nationals, this article is surprisingly accepting of these fraudulent claims “He was just using the money to support his family and survive in Poland, but he has none of the trappings of wealth”. It appears as if the author is almost sympathising with this man. Furthermore, this man received a warning of 10 days behind bars. Yet, the Zimbabwean man who had less of a fraud claim was threatened with 10 months in custody if he did not voluntarily leave the country. This is a clear case of hegemony in favour of the white upper-class of this country which is preeminent in the media’s coverage of social welfare issues.
Taking into consideration the aforementioned ideology of Structuralism by Louis Althusser, The Irish Times and The Independent, are thought to be credited newspapers with reliable sources, however if one was to dive deeper, it is merely a cover, the articles don’t originate with the intent of giving factual accounts of TD’s concern with social welfare, but more so how politicians criticise each other to reach a hierarchy in Dail positions. For example “Burton says social welfare amnesty for fraud and overpayments is not an option” in the Irish Independent. Sinn Féin’s social protection spokesman Aengus Ó Snodaigh, begins the backlash against Burton, for not taxing the rich as much as the poor, his introduction of Amnesty Bill to the Dáil has gained him popularity from the public as they don’t have fear of backlash about receiving more money than issued to them through the social welfare. He attacks Burton on her actions against fraud. There is more investigation into an extra 10 euro note supplied to the poor instead of the real investigation which should be taken under Tony O’Brien, whom no attempt has been made to recover EUR 160,000 overpaid in error to him because of his position, HSE director designate. Although it may look as Ó Snodaigh is on the side social welfare receivers, his contributions to Ireland are only there to keep him popular, keeping him in government and overall keeping him very economically comfortable. Another example of TD’s striving only to care for social welfare reform for popularity among other Dáil figures comes in the case of the Irish Independent article “Troika issues critical report over lack of health reform”.The article is based on the Dáil, and how it is increasingly under pressure from the Troika for their lack of involvement in social welfare, one of the highest priorities in Irish Society at present. The government is obviously under the Troikas thumb and knowing they are the ones keeping Ireland’s economy out of the deep end, they attempt to please them profusely, only adding to the fact that each TD is only looking to keep their position in government, to keep only themselves above water.
To conclude, it is clear that media coverage concerning social welfare is extremely biased. The information the general public can easily access and are handed in the form of media is mostly controlled by big conglomerates and wealthy companies who pay to show what they want the general public to see. Upon further research, it is clear that there are many problems and inaccurate stories circulating through the Irish media.
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