Can We Please Stop Patronising Young People On TV News?

Three interviews with young people, three people attacked, interrupted, patronised and dismissed – intimidating our generation to keep us quiet on the big issues will not work

This month I have been shocked at the way young people were treated in the UK media.

It started when a young campaigner called Kirsty Archer went viral after Sky News anchor Jayne Secker treatment of her during a live interview about Kirsty’s recent eviction under the Section 21 law, which gives landlords unfair powers to evict tenants.

Kirsty was insulted and patronised live on TV and given little chance to defend herself. Her real and distressing situation – that many renters face – was reduced to a patronising slight when Jayne suggested that she might be at fault because tenants are often ‘unable to change a lightbulb’ or perform simple household duties. It was upsetting to see Kirsty treated in this way, to be given a platform only to be attacked and interrupted whenever she tried to speak on the issue she was experiencing.

Just days later, I witnessed another young representative degraded and insulted live on air. Robin Boardman-Pattison, a campaigner with UK climate campaign Extinction Rebellion, was also invited to speak on Sky to explain why activists of all ages have taken over London monuments to call for action on the planet’s climate change crisis. The interview turned nasty, with anchor Adam Bolton likening Robin to a ‘fascist’ and labelling him ‘incompetent’ and ‘self-indulgent.’

And just yesterday, there was yet again more aggression towards another young climate campaigner who was undermined on Sky News, this time by Kay Burley. From the interview, it is hard not to think that Kay had an agenda. Getting frustrated when the young interviewee laughed at how she was being spoken too, Kay proceeding to tell the young woman off, sternly arguing that she should not be laughing because ‘it’s really not funny!’ I find it hard to believe that she would speak to an interviewee her own age in the same manner.

All three interviews show young people seemingly given a platform for their views, only to be attacked, interrupted, patronised and dismissed.

From the beginning of the interviews, it is clear that the anchors are unprofessionally biased. They had no interest in genuinely engaging with and analysing the young representatives’ arguments. Their views were dismissed before they’d even sat down. Dismissed, I believe, for being young. Dismissed for a preconception that they are inexperienced, unrealistic, idealistic and all the other stereotypes assigned to young people when someone decides they want to ignore their views.

It’s hard to believe that climate campaigners like Sir David Attenborough would have been treated in the same way.

It isn’t surprising that young Brits might be treated this way by other generations, when you consider we have one of biggest generational gaps in Europe, with British people in their 20s achieving the lowest scores of any country in relation to being viewed with respect.

Although research suggests perceptions are poor, in reality we know that millennials are better educated than previous generations, with more young women in work than their grandparent’s generation, and volunteering among young people has increased and decreased among older generations.

This weekend the dismissal of young people was reiterated again in the press, this time by politician Boris Johnson. In his column for the telegraph, Johnson addressed the climate change protests in London, saying that he is ‘utterly fed up with being told by nice young people that their opinions are more important than my own.’ His main criticism of the climate change protesters was couched in an attack on young people.

It is tragic to see these power dynamics play out live on air or in print, and it’s damaging the way young people are viewed.

The public trust the news to give a balanced representation of all arguments on an issue. As stated in Ofcom’s broadcast rules: ‘News, in whatever form, must be reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality. ’

This is why we need to stop patronising young people in the media who have important things to say. Their views and opinions are just as valid as any other generation, and they deserve to be given an equal chance to share them.

Intimidating young people to keep quiet on important issues will not work. Rather than force a frustrating divide and mistrust in the media let’s work together to speak about the world’s problems, with meaningful analysis, balanced and fair hearings.

We should be able to trust the press to give everyone their voice, particularly those of us who face the future challenges of the world.


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