Looking for an escape from reality?

Are you looking for an escape from reality? Looking for somewhere where you can make up a story and sell it as fact? Are you looking to blame someone else, anyone else for your own foolishness? Look no further than the tabloids where you can read “articles” that are almost 100 per cent factually inaccurate; complete with quotes by people who feel particularly hard done by and want to know why everyone else isn’t taking the blame for their mistakes. Welcome to an alternative reality – the world of tabloid journalism.

Ok, that is maybe a bit of a generalisation, I’ll admit. But I don’t think it’s totally unfair. We seem to exist in a society where people have developed a sense of entitlement whilst admitting a complete lack of personal responsibility. This idea is only being permeated by the endless stream of vitriol that seeps from the pages of tabloid papers (I am reluctant to put news in front of papers when talking about tabloids). The result is blame being doled out indiscriminately to those who don’t deserve it; taking responsibility is something other people should do. In term I feel this leads to resentment between certain sectors in society, and does nothing to help with the current situation. “We are all in this together. Apart from us because this it’s all your fault.”

This piece is largely the culmination of my own experiences and a series of articles from the Mail Online which are both brimming with indignation that the organisation they have picked on that week has had the audacity to do exactly what it was set up to do and not what those complaining about the organisation wish it did. What were they thinking?

I personally have grown tired of being told day-in-day-out “it wasn’t my fault” and had it up to here with “why aren’t you doing something about this”; or my favourite “what is the point in you?” That last one people never bother clarify whether they are speaking about job I am doing or whether they mean me personally; in which case they should be prepared for a lengthy existentialist discussion which I am sure they will deeply regret within about 5 minutes.

The two articles I am picking on are by the same author who seems to have some serious problems with the service Action Fraud, about whom he is writing. But it might just be that is because it is a government sponsored organisation that he holds it with such contempt.

The first article was published back in July 2013, with the customary tabloid photo of the victim looking hard done by accompanying the piece. The focus of this particular article is on a computer error suffered by the Action Fraud helpline, amongst its other perceived failings by the author. He offers no context (of course) to allow the reader to form their own opinion. He wants you to know the authorities are bad and they want you to suffer, look at the picture of the poor woman suffering because of this huge mistake made. Now, Action Fraud is a national fraud reporting centre. Note there I said reporting centre. Not an investigation service or the police. This point is clearly explained on the Action Fraud website, Facebook page, and even Wikipedia. So it is fairly clear that its purpose is to take reports. Now, the glum looking lady in the photo couldn’t understand why Action Fraud wasn’t doing something about the report she made. Why hadn’t they investigated it or arrested someone. Fair enough if you believe that that is what the service is there for and had no way of finding out anything different. Except she claims she called the helpline repeatedly. The helpline would have repeatedly explained to her what they can, or cannot, do.

Now the writer of the article has gone on and on about the lack of activity by Action Fraud and with some glee points out what he feels are the failings of the helpline. Now had he bothered look into the service even a little bit, he would have realised his article makes him sound as though he has done no research… oh wait. To be fair to him though it took me all of 5 minutes to find the information about what the service was set up to do. But I clearly have more time on my hands.

Given though that you can find this information in a matter of seconds with the help of the trusty internet, is there any excuse for the inaccuracies? It is this kind of behaviour that does nothing to help the image many have of the media in general, never mind journalists or even tabloid journalists (Leveson, anyone?).

This sort of misinformation also does nothing to help those who feel they are hard done by, and have no personal responsibly; they are entitled to everything they want and they want it now. And what better way to spread this misinformation than through a forum like a national paper. No need to use this to educate and inform: use it to further sell misinformation.

I came across a second piece published by the same author, on the same subject, at the beginning of December 2013. This piece was titled “Victory for the Mail on Sunday as elite police teams take over failing £2million fraud hotline”. To start with, this is the only piece I can find by the Mail that suggests there was any kind of campaign to start with.

On Monday 2nd December 2013 it was announced by the Home Secretary Teresa May that the running of the Action Fraud helpline was being handed over to the City of London Police. Now the writer would have you believe it was being taken over by “elite police teams” because the helpline couldn’t catch any criminals. (Which in this case he would actually be correct. Well done.) Had the writer bothered to listen to the announcement in parliament, or read a press release, or had a quick look online he would have discovered that Action Fraud will remain in place; carrying out the same job and run by the same company. What is being handed over to the City of London police is the responsibility for handling the service contract. This information can be found in about 3 clicks by going to the website. I know this because I spent all of 3 minutes searching for it.

I was certainly impressed then that the writer was able to exert their great power to persuade the Home Secretary to take action. Congratulations. All it took was a factually inaccurate story in the Mail to get an executive branch of the Home Office removed. Power to the people!

Personally I find this sort of thing hugely irresponsible. It gives people the impression that everything you have been told is wrong, and you are hard done by, and it is their fault, not yours. I was always taught, and believe, that the role of journalists was to be impartial; to present information without bias. This is not something that tabloids tend to do, which is nothing new, but should they then be termed journalists? Without meaning to make sweeping generalisations, but those people I know who read only tabloids have much stronger, or even extreme, feelings and beliefs when it comes to what they should be doing for themselves, and what they expect others to do for them.

In the case of the people mentioned in the first article, the people the Mail have spoken to are clearly unwilling to take any portion of responsibility. As with everything in life there is a certain amount or risk, but how much blame can you lay at the feet of someone else because you don’t have the common sense to read terms and conditions, or take two minutes to check a website before you go ahead and give them your bank details, card details, and mother’s maiden name?

I now find myself in situations daily where either I am being blamed for someone else’s mistake, or see people laying blame at the feet of others (like the young man on the train who couldn’t believe the ticket inspector wanted to see his ticket, and was amazed that the inspector had little sympathy when the young man in question said he didn’t have any money with him, so it wasn’t his fault he didn’t have a ticket). This sense of entitlement though is now not only being displayed by the younger generations. Those who have retired now also feel hard done by. I can completely understand that given the ever increasing price of food and fuel, the current pension is not going to go very far, and we have all been affected by these issues. However, expecting the younger generation to make up for a previous generations lack of planning and spurious policy making is not fair. As Ben Goldacre pointed out in his letter to The Times, my generation is now expected to pay for benefits the older generation awarded themselves, pay off the national debt, and at the same time being labelled as lazy because many can’t afford to live away from their parents. I can’t help but feel a little squashed between an older generation who could afford their own homes by their mid-twenties, and now expect to have their retirement paid for (I am looking forward to working until I am at least 68 by the way) along with their medical treatment, and a group of people from my own generation who believe they are owed everything for nothing.

Basically all I trying to say is that life can be pretty rubbish, you get dealt good and bad hands. But please, please don’t blame all the bad ones on everyone else. There is always a portion of personal responsibility in everything we do (or don’t do), and the more people remember that, the less likely you are to build up resentment, and the easier everyone’s life will be. After all, I’d do anything for an easy life.


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