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Cost-of-living crisis has highlighted the importance of communicating economic inequality in the media

MDX Senior Lecturer in Journalism Dr Sophie Knowles will address and discuss the media’s role in inequality at the House of Commons this month

MDX Senior Lecturer in Journalism Dr Sophie Knowles will speak at the House of Commons on March 28 about how economic inequality is portrayed in the media.

The event, which will also launch research from a book Dr Knowles co-edited, will be an important platform to debate policy recommendations created following a roundtable held at MDX last summer. A diverse range of experts discussed media reporting on the day-to-day economy, and its shortcomings in reflecting the experiences of and communicating effectively with ordinary people.

Dr Knowles has spent the last decade researching how economic inequality and economic policy is framed by news media. She has looked at the impact of communication since the pandemic and how in the context of the cost-of-living-crisis, inequalities continue to grow due to the public’s low financial and economic literacy.

For instance, half of the public cannot choose the right definition for the government’s budget deficit from a multiple-choice question, meaning that when journalists use terms like inflation, GDP, or deficit, they are alienating around 50 per cent of the public.

Dr Knowles says the event will focus on the need to report economic policy in a way the broad public can understand.

She added: “To put it simply, there is little public and journalistic synergy about some economic terms, which can have drastic consequences for the way the current crisis is being framed, and the anxiety it can cause our most vulnerable members of society.”

The event has been sponsored by the MP for Hammersmith and Shadow Solicitor General Andy Slaughter, and brings together a range of perspectives.

Guests will include MPs, members of the House of Lords, charities including Nuffield and Economy, journalists from the Financial Times and Independent, think tanks and policy institutes such as the Centre for Progressive Policy. The Director of the International Institute of Inequalities at the London Stock Exchange and MDX Professors of Journalism, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Kurt Barling will also be in attendance.

Community organisations including lnclusive London and CommUNITY Barnet will offer the voices of people with lived experience. Dr Knowles said: “Without them our theory and research will never be relevant or brought to life. They offer the most authentic version of peer-review. They were an invaluable asset to my research last summer, and the only way to ensure we develop a discourse that is truly inclusive.

“I'm always aware that big complex issues and questions require interdisciplinary work, so a lot of my research endeavours try to cross disciplines and break down silos. This event is doing exactly the same thing - bringing together a range of perspectives to bridge sectors and generate a productive discussion that is relevant for practice and public policy.”

Julie Pal, CEO at CommUNITY Barnet, emphasised the importance of the public having confidence in their understanding of economic information presented by the media.

“The work we are doing in partnership with the University will be instrumental in making information more accessible which will empower people to make proactive financial decisions,” she said.

Steve Schifferes, visiting Professor in journalism at MDX, and co-editor of the book, said: “Our research has shown that there has been a significant shift in the public mood since the Covid pandemic, with more concern over inequality and more support for measures to tackle unequal wealth and income.

“We urgently need a better dialogue between journalists, campaigners and ordinary citizens in order to improve their understanding and engagement with this key issue.”

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