One of the most unexpected spin offs from my work for the TUC has been its use in a study of reactions to the report amongst younger people, now reported on the Guardian blog. Greg Philo, the research director of Glasgow University Media Unit, asked the question:
Are young people interested in politics? Certainly there are single issues that motivate some, like whales, world poverty and the Iraq war. But are the old-style political issues of tax, wealth and redistribution, all just a bit passe? This is a received wisdom and TV journalists often work with the view that to explain such issues would be the kiss of death for a young audience. Indeed, any in-depth explanation can be frowned upon, for, as George Alagiah put it to us, "We are constantly told that the attention span of our average viewer is about 20 seconds". So are young people now lost to a world of computer games, Jackass and YouTube images of barfing speed-daters?
Actually no, and one reason is that large numbers are now in higher education (over 50% in Scotland). These are expected to concentrate on arguments, to use logic and think critically. So what would they make of the recent TUC report on tax avoidance by the wealthy and large corporations, old labour in tone and political to its core?
I'll question if this was either Old Labour or political to its core (but accept that others might see it that way), but was fascinated to note what they did to answer this question:
We interviewed 326 people aged 17-23, studying everything from physics, accountancy and engineering to social sciences and arts. This is a demographic that TV execs would give much to attract. The report had been covered on radio and some of the press, but not on TV news. This limited its range dramatically since 65% of the population use this as their key news source, while in terms of impact and what is remembered, the figure is higher. As it was, in our sample, only 5% had heard of the story.
5% isn't bad!
What was then interesting was that Greg Philo noted that:
TV news on the economy, with its emphasis on markets and individual wealth, can appear rather conservative. It is not strong on featuring structures of power and ownership. But if it had offered a deeper, more critical view of how those with wealth hold on to it, then what would be the response?
Our interviewees were given information from the report - that billions are lost by moving transactions out of the UK and by shifting income to others such as spouses who will pay less tax. Just half the amount lost was enough to build an extra 50 hospitals a year. This aspect of the report really caught their attention and 72% said the story was of "high interest" to them. More remarkably, when asked if the story should be shown on TV news, 96% said yes.
That's staggering. 96% is material (as we accountants would put it) however you look at the data, and however sized the sample. And it's incredibly important to know this. What it's saying is that the market led drivel that in many cases passes for news now is not what all people want. They do want to consider issues - and can handle them. As the article concluded:
This sounds very radical for TV news and for most politicians, but the grim realities of the market are raising questions for which audiences and voters will increasingly want answers.
I think that's true.