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Through a media glass darkly

Was it really only last year?
There has been a lot of buzz in the UK media in the last couple of days about the 2011 summary census results, which are just out. However, strangely, the headlines missed out on one significant conclusion - how distorted some aspects of media reporting are.

Most English media organizations, with the exception of the BBC's recent major move to Salford, are based in London. This makes a lot of sense. The media world is one of communication, and though today's technology in principle means that you can work from anywhere, I appreciate (if only from the number of invitations to press events I turn down) that there are lot of opportunities for first hand interaction that require journalists to be in London.

However, the trouble is that whenever, say, a TV news programme wants to interview pupils or teachers in a school they are rather lazy. Being based in London, they will nearly always go to a London school. And  this will be totally non-representative of the country as a whole. This comes shining through in the census reports.

Take ethnicity. According to the reported census results, in London 45% of people identified themselves as 'white British'. In the population of England and Wales outside London that figure is 86%. It's pretty easy to see that doing a vox pop in London will not give you a representative ethnic mix. The same is very likely to be true of many other factors, like wealth distribution and occupation, but these weren't reported in the media response to the census, which for some reason concentrated on ethnicity and religious beliefs.

The message of the numbers is clear. Broadcasters and journalists need to break out of the capital and use more representative vox pops, school visits and other ways they portray the nation. It simply won't do to use London to represent the country as a whole, because it is patently so different to everywhere else. In many respects that's a good thing. We want our capital to be special, unusual and outstanding.  It shouldn't be average. But it is time that shoddy, lazy journalism stopped presenting such a misleading picture.


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