Austerity and Visual Propaganda: blowing the whistle on Murdoch press’s fight against the poor

Marco Bohr’s latest article, Austerity and Visual Propoganda highlights yet another campaign by the highly successful sculptor of public opinion – the Murdoch press.  mum-682_1138433aWe got 60-inch telly on benefits, The Sun, October 2010

Marco Bohr analyses some sensationalist articles in Murdoch’s right-wing British tabloid The Sun which aim to present welfare recipients as culpable and unworthy of any support from taxpayers.  In particular, the photographs on which the articles comment show whole families (often with large numbers of children) photographed in their own homes.  The images tend to show some of the trappings of wealth like large modern television sets and new furniture.  The impression intended is ‘You (i.e. the ‘hard-working working and lower-middle class) can’t afford this, but these people are spending your taxes to get it.’  All the photographs are shot looking down – belittling the subjects and making the viewer/voyeur feel superior and judgmental.

Marco Bohr contrasts these images with an image of Lewis Hine, Spinners and doffers in Lancaster Cotton Mills. Dozens of them in this mill, 1908, in which poor children are seen standing in front of the factory machinery on which they work.  The photographer shoots the subjects from eye level – as equals, who have great dignity and deserve empathy and respect.  Lewis Hine - Spinners and doffers in Lancaster Cotton Mills. Dozens of them in this mill, 1908

This article once again brings to the fore the ease with which mass media can polarise issues.

One very close to home issue came to the fore again this week in another Murdoch paper – the Geelong Advertiser.

At the weekend a huge cycling event Around the Bay in A Day, passed through Geelong.  There were around 14,000 participants, at least 10,000 of whom cycled through Geelong city and then either to Melbourne or Queenscliff.  For any other mass recreational activity of this size the Geelong Advertiser would publish at least one eight page supplement of photographs, names and articles.

However, the Geelong Advertiser‘s  angle was a photograph and derogatory article about some of the participants who were seen to break road rules.  There was no positive comment that this was only a tiny proportion of the whole group, and certainly no eight page positive spread of images.  The Advertiser invited readers to make comments on its web page, which would then be published in the paper.  To cap this off, the editorial was a diatribe against the event and against cyclists breaking the law.

On Tuesday, some of these comments were printed in the paper.  All those printed were negative: some were close to inciting violence against cyclists.  Yet at least one positive comment about the cyclists and cycling was not accepted and certainly not printed.

This is not the first time that the Geelong Advertiser has targeted cyclists, and encouraged a confrontational ‘us’ and ‘them’ approach to cycling.

Add this to the fact that, at a national level in Australia, the Murdoch press controls the largest circulation papers in all the major cities.  The ongoing negativity of the Murdoch press to any social reforms, refugees, and any left of centre political movements, and deliberate destabilising and demonising of left of centre political leaders was, in my opinion, a major factor in the result of the recent federal election.

This points up the need for us to become visually literate and sceptical of what we read and hear in the mass media.  We need to educate ourselves and our children to read images effectively, to understand that while the lens shows what is put in front of it, the image we see may have been willfully manipulated.  The camera doesn’t lie, but the photographer certainly does.

Nowadays, at least in the Murdoch press, there is often little distinction between news and editorial commentary.  It is a frighteningly effectively propaganda machine.

Photographs from Visual Culture Blog.  


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