Media coverage of economics and the financial crisis

Framing the cuts: An analysis of the BBC’s discursive framing of the ConDem cuts agenda

Media coverage of economics and the financial crisis has been poor to say the last.

This article analyses the BBC’s online coverage of the British Conservative-Liberal Democrat (ConDem) coalition government’s Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) of 2010. The Spending Review formed part of the government’s response to the economic crisis that began in 2007/8.

In the CSR, the Chancellor of the Exchequer outlined the details of his ‘austerity’ programme, amounting at that point to £81 billion in cuts to public spending. Here, we analyse the extent to which the BBC facilitated clear under-standing of available political options, and scrutiny of and challenge towards government economic policy in accordance with its democratic duties.

Performing a close analysis of three key features that form part of the BBC’s online CSR coverage, we draw on Entman’s (1993, 2004, 2007) frame analysis to understand how ‘some aspects of a perceived reality [were made] more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation’ (1993: 52); in this case, how the economic crisis was defined, interpreted, and evaluated by BBC News Online, and which ‘treatments’ were promoted as legitimate and credible.

We consider how media coverage of economics and the framing of the “debate” afforded the possibility of deliberation among and between citizens. In addition, we are interested in which and how “questions” are posed to citizens, and the degree to which debate around economic and political alternatives is facilitated.

The analysis explores the specific institutional context of the BBC, in terms of its public service remit, its editorial guidelines, and its stated intentions for its CSR cover-age. We also analyse the government’s own framing of the CSR, specifically its ‘Spending Challenge’; we consider the extent to which the BBC challenged or reproduced this government framing.

By situating the three BBC texts in their institutional, historical, political and discursive contexts, we hope to demonstrate how qualitative analysis of these texts can provide insights into the processes by which the hegemony of neoliberalism is discursively sustained. It is neither the remit nor the intention of this article to determine the extent to which audiences uncritically accepted the dominant frames in these features; rather, our interest is in how a powerful institution such as the BBC – which is ostensibly protected from market forces – delineates the boundaries for “legitimate” political debate

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