This is how our media 'finds' its stories about benefits

Bethan McKernan@mck_beth
Tuesday 11 August 2015 17:00

Kate Evans from Oxford works for a charity that promotes self-advocacy in the disabled community, and as such she signs up for mailing lists on subjects related to welfare and disabilities issues.

As a journalist herself, she's aware that often major media organisations will have premeditated agendas when it comes to writing stories, telling

Most people think about journalism as, you know, there's a story about someone, and the newspapers go find them and write about them, not that the story comes from the top down.

Opening up her inbox this morning, however, Kate was appalled by what she called a particularly "toxic" example of a request for a very specific first-person piece.

The email, which had Women's Own in the subject of the email but was signed by a contributing editor for The Sun, was asking for a woman over the age of 35 who "used to be overweight and on disability living allowance due to weight related issues, but is now a healthy weight and employed."

The editor was looking for someone who would write that overweight people deserved to lose their benefits if they refused treatment such as gastric band surgery on the NHS, going on to say:

We'd want her to talk about how having her benefits taken away would have given her the motivation to lose weight, and how great she feels now that she's thin and supporting herself.

The commissioning editor signed the email with the caveat:

NB, this is an edict from on-high (the editor), not one of my making (in case anybody takes offence!).

Sadly for him, Kate did take offence, and decided to share the email on Twitter, where lots of other people got angry at the manufactured narrative:

Kate said she wasn't offended by the journalist who'd sent the request, but rather by the fact that approaching stories like this is a "systemic issue."

There's something really wrong about this discourse we have around disabilities and benefits and weight and the way we are told to look at those issues.

Truer words never spoken.

When contacted by Buzzfeed, The Sun said it had no record of commissioning the story, and Women's Own said the email was "a genuine error of judgement by a junior member of staff who was not authorised to take this action."

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