Friday, 6 August 2010

Reading comprehension

Here is a headline from the Daily Mail: "Romanian president praises countrymen for claiming British benefits in attack on 'lazy Westerners'".

Here is the opening line of the article to which that headline is attached, with an important bit emphasised in italics by me:
The president of Romania has publicly thanked the tens of thousands of his countrymen who claim benefits in Britain instead of their own country.
And here are the quotes from the president of Romania on which the headline and opening paragraph are based:
'Imagine if the two million Romanians working in Britain, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, came to ask for unemployment benefits in Romania,' he said. 'So to these people we have to thank them for what they are doing for Romania.'

[...]

'In those countries, the social protection is at a level that makes it more comfortable to be unemployed. Romanians do that hard labour for them and to earn better and make more money than they could at home,' claimed President Basescu.
Today's homework assignment is this: find a quote from the Romanian president in that article which support's the headline's assertion that he is praising Romanians for claiming benefits in the UK. I ask because I, a lay person with only A-level English to my name, read those quotes and saw him praising Romanian emigrants for being hard-working and going abroad to earn money through work rather than claiming benefits in Romania, something the article itself later admits.

So, the story is a straight-up misrepresentation of what the man is saying. But wait! I think DAILY MAIL REPORTER done found a loophole!
Romanians workers have flooded into Britain with other eastern European citizens after joining the EU following the collapse of Communism.

When they they arrive the immigrants are immediately entitled to child benefit, Tax Credits and housing support.

After 12 months in Britain they can receive generous income-related benefits like unemployment benefit.
Do you see? The headline wants you to assume that by 'benefits' it means unemployment benefit. DAILY MAIL REPORTER or their sub-editor will know that the word 'benefits' is synonymous with feckless scroungers stuffing their face with chips on the dole. It has a far less powerful association with those benefits which are paid to people who work legally and pay their taxes, such as tax credits. Moreover, DAILY MAIL REPORTER knows that the Romanian president was not praising his fellow Romanians for coming over here and taking all our lovely benefits, but for performing real work. But hey, why let that get in the way of an inflammatory, baiting headline?

UPDATE 10:41 - the Mail has now amended the headline from "claiming British benefits" to the more accurate and fair "doing British jobs" (thanks to the excellent Tabloid Watch for pointing this out). You can still tell what it used to say though, as the URL still reads: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1300807/Romanian-president-Traian-Basescu-praises-countrymen-claiming-British-benefits.html

By the time the amendment was made, many people will have read the original story. Among the comments left before the edit were Sue in Sussex observing "what he really means is thank you all for having our degenerates", and one "Hamster" who cries "Dear God, this just gets more ridiculous by the minute. Stop ALL benefits to foreigners - simple". I do hope those two come back to read the new headline...

5 comments:

  1. Also worth pointing out that at no point is the Romananian president quoted as calling Westerners "lazy". The only reason I assume the "lazy" in the headline is in quote marks is because it is quoting the article, which is a bit odd, isn't it?

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  2. The president didnt even mentioned Britain in his tv interview.So much for the accuracy and the credibility of British press.After 10 years in USA I returned home to Romania and I can witness that only in english speaking world people take pride in being ignorant and shouting it out loud.Is it a cultural thing or what?Just asking....!!!

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