“Each framing defines the problem in its own way, and hence constrains the solutions needed to address that problem.” George Lakoff
Do you remember the last time you read about human rights in a British newspaper? What was the angle? Was it about national security? Or the power of the European courts? Or protecting universal rights?
Here are a few headlines from different newspapers over the past couple of years:
Put UK back in charge of Human Rights Laws
Human rights are a charter for criminals, say 75% of Britons
Tory Wreckers out to destroy their own human rights
Each of these headlines connects human rights with a different area of concern, implying a different problem and solution – what authority should dictate our laws (the UK or Europe); who uses or abuses the law (citizens or criminals), and who it is actually designed to protect (everyone or the few).
How we talk about human rights can and does make a huge difference to how they are perceived. While the vast majority of us are either supportive or undecided about human rights, the media tells a different story. In a review of broadsheet and tabloid newspapers, political blogs and parliamentary speeches from 2013, ‘human rights’ was rarely used in a positive context. In fact, only 30% of articles were supportive of human rights in the UK (in England it was less than 20%).
This won’t surprise anyone that has paid attention to media coverage of human rights, but it gets more interesting when you look at the different ‘frames’ used. A frame is a story, composed of ideas, memories, emotions and values attached to and associated with a given concept. Framing is a communication tool, that we use (consciously or unconsciously) to provoke a particular kind of reaction to that concept. Most ideas (like human rights) can be talked about in vastly different ways. Last year, working with Counterpoint and Equally Ours, we analysed UK media coverage of human rights; identified the main frames, and then tested how these frames affected people’s values and attitudes.