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Monday, 1 September 2014

Perception and reality in press and politics

There is an interesting comparator from Buzzfeed which is currently circulating on social media. In a survey carried out by Ipsos MORI last year, 1,015 British adults aged 16-75 were asked questions about population and social issues in Britain. These perceptions are then compared with national statistics and the results show that everything we think we know is wrong.

Why might that be? Some will argue that national statistics don't reflect reality. There may be an element of this, for example, unreported crime is (understandably) not included in national crime statistics but is nevertheless real for all those affected by it. However, the inadequacies of statistical measurement (of which there are many) are unlikely to explain the fundamental mismatch in perception that a comparator like this indicates.

For me, media and political debate in the UK plays to our perceptions (and, therefore, prejudices) far more than it does to the reality revealed through the statistics we collect locally and nationally. We need to remember that our press is not balanced or neutral but, taken as a whole, predominantly right-wing. All opinion mediated to us by press and politicians is edited opinion reflecting (consciously or not) the editor's perceptions and stances. Where our press is predominantly right-wing, that also means that the majority of mediated news is presented from a right-wing perspective. This is in addition, to the more evident manipulation of statistics for which a politician like Iain Duncan Smith has rightly been criticised.

The result is that political policies are formed, not by the closest thing we have to reality on the ground (which is, for all its inadequacies, the statistical information we possess), but the discussion of this by press and politicians who are coming at this not from a neutral perspective but from a specific party political perspective. This means, ultimately, that many political policies are not evidence-based and address perception rather than reality; this being a primary reason why they don't deliver what the politicians introducing them say they will deliver.

The gap between perception and reality forms a significant part of Owen Jones' Guardian piece at the weekend entitled It's socialism for the rich and capitalism for the rest of us in Britain. This, before you point it out to me, comes from a left-wing perspective - it is, therefore, an important counter-balance to the overall right-wing bias of the press.


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