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The Mirror front page hit a nerve. Bring on the distraction

BlSqhbvIUAAJJ0N.jpg-largeThe front page of yesterday’s Daily Mirror (left) made for graphic viewing. Its simple message about the injustice of Britain’s reliance on food banks – and the ease with which it could be shared on social media – made it an effective campaigning tool for “digital Bennites”. But within hours, the backlash had begun. Twitter was awash with right-wingers and plenty who should have known better expressing their own indignation. Apparently the use of a stock photo from Getty Images  – something plenty of papers use every day – is more of an outrage than the fact that one million food parcels have been handed out.

A blogger called Dan Barker, whose website boasts of his skills “with suppliers, partners, clients and agencies”, posed four supposed ethical questions. The answer to all four, including “Is there an ethical issue in buying a stock photo of a child – not in poverty – and using it to illustrate poverty?”, should be a resounding “no”. But this is hardly the first time that an effective communication campaign by a left-wing force has resulted in faux incredulity. In this case, parts of the media which frequently scapegoat migrants and the unemployed rather than identify the real culprits seemed keen to distract from the injustice. Two years ago, it was papers (including the Evening Standard) criticised for partiality in the mayoral election, attacking a brilliant campaign ad from Ken Livingstone for its use of “actors”.

The Mirror front page was suitably outraged, and caught the eye. No doubt it did in newsagents across Britain, reaching out to thousands who might otherwise have opted for a right-wing title but who share the Mirror‘s indignation at Britain’s huge dependency on food banks. As for social media, it might have been a newspaper cover, but you didn’t need to read the story to get what the editors were on about. Above all, it served as a stark reminder that the tabloid press can indeed be a force for good. It hit back at those who snobbishly dismiss all tabloids as only concerned with immigrant-bashing and light pornography. (I’ve lost count of the number of raised eyebrows when I’ve mentioned reading  – and once or twice having worked for – the Mirror).

We were told we should dismiss the Mirror front page – because the child was not starving, but upset because of the death of an earthworm. But as someone pointed out on Twitter last night, nowhere did the paper say that the picture was proof of the need for food banks. Like many photographs in newspapers, it was an illustration. Imagine the cries of “exploitation!” and “irresponsibility!” if the paper had sent a photographer to snap an actually-starving child.

The affected incredulity at Livingstone’s 2012 “election broadcast on behalf of ordinary Londoners” was as dubious as yesterday’s outbursts. Londoners who had never trod the boards were in some cases paid a disturbance fee or expenses for their time off work. Calling this “acting” is scraping the barrel, but there was plenty of that going on already. Another criticism was that Livingstone supporters read from scripts in the film. So do BBC newsreaders, but how often do the Daily Mail question their authenticity?

The media, and communications strategy, is all about creating narratives. By definition, this will involve  creative license. It makes for interesting, exciting and engaging reading and viewing. The left doesn’t always get communications right: who can forget Gordon Brown’s numerous “re-launches”, or the slogan “British jobs for British workers”? The Guardian, relied on by many to get behind the left, famously endorsed a party that now props up a government to the right of Thatcher.

The left frequently fails to get its messages into mass media, or out beyond an audience of the converted. But you know there’s been a success when you get a backlash like yesterday’s. We should congratulate  the Mirror staff for illustrating the front page so well. The Daily and Sunday Mirror, along with the Morning Star, are the only newspapers to consistently attack the real causes of Britain’s misery. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that those papers which refuse this task have created such a shoddy sensation.


  1. Chris Kitcher says:

    Who cares what lying Tory bastards say anyway?

  2. paul sheppard says:

    Because right wing papers and TV news never use stock footage, misleading headlines or photographs

    Usual hypocrisy from the masters of lies and disinformation

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