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Child poverty and media advocacy in aotearoa

New Zealand has one of the worst rates of child poverty in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Research has shown that modern mass media provide a mediated cultural forum through which policy responses to child poverty are socially negotiated and from which public support for children in need is either cultivated or undermined. This thesis focuses on the role of media advocacy by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) who attempt to widen public debate and legitimate options for addressing child poverty. I investigate the case of the Government's Working for Families package and the controversy surrounding the media release of CPAG's negative evaluation of the package in the form of a research report Cut Price Kids. Attention is given to competing ideological frames underlying the Government's package, in the form of neo-liberal emphases on distinctions between God's and the Devil's poor. Attention is also given to CPAG's response, in the form of communitarian notions of collective responsibility for all families in need. Specifically, I analyse the role of the mass media in framing child poverty as a social issue across three levels of mass communication - production, representation, and reception. At the production level interviews were held with six journalists involved with reporting on Cut Price Kids and two members of CPAG. Fifteen Government and 5 CPAG press releases were also explored to document media production processes and restraints on public deliberations. In addition, the ideological stances influencing the framing of coverage were investigated. At the media representation level 21 press, seven radio, and five television items were analysed to establish the scope of public debate, whose perspectives were included, and the ways in which differing perspectives are combined. At the reception level four focus group discussions with lower socio-economic status (SES) parent groups, as well as follow-up photo-based interviews with eight participants were explored in order to document the role of media coverage in the lives of families with children living in poverty. Across levels, findings suggest that journalists are restrained by professional practices which maintain the importance of balance and detached objectivity, rather than interpretations of appropriate responses to child poverty. Tensions between the Government's emphasis on restricting support to families with parents in paid employment and CPAG's emphasis on the need to not discriminate against the children of out of work families framed coverage. The lower SES parents participating at the reception level challenged the restrained nature of coverage, which excluded people such as themselves, and openly questioned media characterisations of them as bludgers who are irresponsible parents. Overall, findings support the view that media are a key component of ongoing social dialogues through which public understandings of, and policy responses to, child poverty are constructed. Specifically, psychologists need to engage more with processes of symbolic power which shape the public construction of child poverty in a conservative manner that can lead to victim blaming, and restrains opportunities for addressing this pressing social concern.
Type of thesis
Barnett, A. R. (2006). Child poverty and media advocacy in aotearoa (Thesis, Master of Social Sciences (MSocSc)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/2431
The University of Waikato
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