Examining the relationship between a headline and the content of an article can expose some of the bias of a news paper, or online website. A high proportion of readers skim a headline and either just move on, or read only the first paragraph.
The (dis)connection between a Stuff headline today and the content of the article, supports a right wing discourse: in this discourse, the public sector is less efficient than the private sector, and public servants are lacking in a strong work ethic. The superficial and inadequate analysis in the content of the article diverts attention from the cuts in jobs in government ministries. It masks the likely impact on worker’s health and well-being resulting from of stresses imposed on the remaining workers.
The headline plays into the right wing mantra that the private sector is more efficient than the public sector, and that private employees work harder. The Stuff headline today, for an article by Ben Heather, is: Public servants take more sick days. The article opens with this sentence:
Public servants may be tightening their belts, but they are still taking twice as many sick days as the rest of us.
This sentence not only supports right-wing discourse on public servants work ethics, but positions them as being different form the reader, and the majority of ordinary Kiwis.
But then, the article goes on to reveal that the comparison was between official figures for the government public services and a survey by EPMU (as there are no official or systematic stats kept for the private sector).
But even more telling are the ministries that have the highest average of worker sick days:
The number of sick days in the public sector had remained relatively constant during the past three years, despite a stronger emphasis on not coming to work while sick, he said.
The Social Development Ministry was the sickliest government agency, with an average of 9.2 days off per person across its staff of more than 9000.
Inland Revenue workers also suffered more than their fair share of illness, with an average of 9.1 days a year.
The Pacific Island Affairs Ministry, with just 40 staff, took an average of 8.4 sick days per person this year. Social Development Ministry deputy chief executive Marc Warner said the number of sick days had dropped steadily in the past three years. The high number reflected the many staff who were interacting regularly with the public.
Surely the amount of sick leave reflects badly on the minister responsible? Something wrong with the pressures exerted on the workers? In that case, Paula Bennett does not see m to be the best of bosses.
And then there’s this factor, dropped in, right at the bottom of the article, as an afterthought, is this:
Overall, the number of public servants has dropped by nearly 1400 in the past three years.
There is no attempt to examine whether the number of sick days has to do with a smaller amount of workers. This is likely to have resulted in the remaining staff being prone to sickness due to over-work. Such a disconnect between headline and article the related limited analysis, are as Nicky Hager argued, poor journalism. As I stated in my post on Hager’s lecture, the guiding principle for good investigative journalism, and indeed all journalism, should be,
the relentless pursuit for truth and facts beyond the political manipulations and PR distortions that passes for much of mainstream journalism in neoliberal times.
Ben Heather’s article on sick days fails to live up to this principle, and, while it presents some interesting facts, mostly serves to reinforce right wing discourse.