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There will be panic in the streets!

February 3, 2014

At the moment, we’re having a bit of a panic about the fact that the police Cannot Be Trusted. In actuality, we’ve discovered that some crime statistics get fiddled a bit, but we don’t know to what degree; we also have inconclusive evidence that the police nay have shot one man who may not have been armed; and that they tell fibs about politicians they don’t like, the consequences of which are more significant than the action itself.

I’m not a fan of the phrase: “It’s political correctness gone mad!” but the use of the word “pleb” to me, particularly by one of the Tories (who are not known for their hippy Love The Working Classes attitude) is not to my mind a sackable offence. At worst I think it showed him to be arrogant, the way successful people often are. Surely we aren’t so sensitive about this thing we call “class” – in a day and age when an office lackey earns less than a skilled and successful builder – that we couldn’t have just laughed that off as a silly episode from a pompous git?

In any case, the corruption in our police force would hardly make your average Ugandan blush; a small amount of corruption is is inevitable in all countries, because we’re dealing with regular people doing their day-to-day work with varying degrees of efficiency an integrity, depending on how much sleep they each got the night before. If you scraped the very bottom of the barrel of police professionalism, what you’d mostly find is a group of not very mature, blokey blokes who stroll around telling people what to do. That’s been going on for a while, so the fact that many people on the force are a cut above that should be considered a sign of gradual positive change.

Thanks in some part to the papers, “Middle England” still has some very odd views and practices. Expecting bobbies to be above that smacks of a lack of understanding about how qualified you have to be in order to become one. They don’t put you through rigorous moral testing, or challenge you on your understanding of international affairs. What they do try is to heed the voices of the public to whom they are still answerable. This public includes the papers and its obsession with reaffirming the obsessions of the past without taking care to part fact from fiction.

Everywhere I go I hear people thirty years my senior talk about how In Their Day, parents were tougher, kids were better behaved, everyone knew their morals and believe in the good Lord Jesus Christ our saviour, and there was none of this wishy-washy liberal nanny-state save-the-hobos nonsense. Of course, that’s 60% rose tinted spectacles and 30% misunderstanding of the current situation (a decrease in religious values and a rise in “wishy-washy”-ness is almost certainly not as much to blame for rise in crime compared to the current economic crisis and it is incredibly difficult to attribute one individual cultural fact to another societal change).

The other 10% however, in onto something; there was less chat about other people’s welfare in general, not because people know better, but because people took care of their own affairs before getting involved in others, for better and for worse. There would have been less in the paper about child abuse and neglect for example, not because it didn’t happen, but because our capacity to notice it was lesser.

These days it’s closer to the other direction. Abuse still happens, but we see abuse that isn’t there. We get angry about the abuse, and equally angry about the reports of abuses that turn out not to have occurred. People want to see a decrease in child neglect and abuse but aren’t willing to accept the fact that an increase in regulation means an increase in intrusion and that mistakes will be made. Publications exacerbate this by putting a lot of emphasis on police failings in both directions

It makes it seem as though the police can’t do anything right, when the reality is that their increase in policing will have led to an increase in correct interventions (hence why you’re reading about them in the paper) and an increase in incorrect interventions, because that is inevitable result of increased and hasty action. More interventions means more correct and more incorrect, but it will only make news if it a) shows a bungle or b) is truly gruesome. Thus, neglect and abuse rates look like their at an all time high and police performance at an all time low.

The media is a double edged sword in all this. On the one hand, there is nothing wrong with increasing awareness, both of inefficiency in our public services and in the number of abuses and neglects that occur within families. Both, hopefully, will result in reforms in our country’s operation and eventual improvement. It isn’t that it has to get worse to get better; it has to appear to get worse in order for someone to take the initiative to take forward steps in making it better. And, well, if there’s one thing that newspapers do, it’s make things appear worse than they are. The downside is these moral panics that make people think it’s the end of civilisation, that “we’ll all be rowing down the street on a tide of liquidised pensioner”, to use a delightful phrase once used by Yahtzee.


From → Media Analysis

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