Benefits Street Backlash – New Guidelines for Journalists

NUJ Guide to reporting povertyThe National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has developed a set of guidelines for reporting poverty. The guidelines have been produced in response to media reporting that stigmatises people living in poverty, in particular those in receipt of benefits, by using misleading information and negative stereotypes. The NUJ guidelines on reporting poverty are the latest in its series of guidelines which include reporting on race, age and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues, as part of its commitment to ethical journalism.

The NUJ have worked in partnership with Church Action on Poverty to produce the guide for journalists, which is uniquely based on the words and experiences of people relying on benefits and living in poverty.

Jackie Cox, the Poverty Media Coordinator for Church Action on Poverty says: “producing a guide for journalists with the NUJ has been a great way to follow-on from our Real Benefits Street project which challenged the negative stereotypes portrayed by Channel 4’s Benefits Street and some other sections of the media. We wanted the people who are experiencing poverty, and being stigmatised because of it, to be able to put their point of view to journalists.”

Rachel Broady, a freelance journalist and Equality Officer for the NUJ Manchester and Salford branch says: “Profits are made by media companies, newspapers, websites, and television channels on the backs of these stereotypes, demonising and alienating those receiving benefits to which they are entitled. It is the duty of journalists to report fairly and accurately. The guide is intended to help journalists achieve that when reporting on poverty”.

Shirley has had to rely on benefits and has even used a food bank, despite the fact that she has always worked. She says: “Recognise that people living in poverty are human beings. People living in poverty have dignity. That humanity and dignity is taken away because of how the media portrays them.”

Letitia, a university graduate and a single parent, who has claimed benefits, says: “Don’t contribute to the idea that there are deserving and undeserving poor people – no one wants or deserves to live in poverty”.

Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty says: “It is hoped that individual journalists, newspapers, broadcasters and online media companies will adopt the guidelines and use them to report on poverty and related issues in a responsible and accurate way”.