What do we want? Respect! When do we want it? Now!

Jul 19, 2016 | BLOG

By: Roy Jones, Chair, NUJ 60+

‘The opinions the public form and what administrators do is helped by informed and accurate reporting so, as with all members of society, the media should treat older people with fairness, dignity and respect’.

NUJ code of conduct.

What’s the problem?

In the past, older people were treated somewhat patronisingly, e.g. “reaching for their slippers”, but generally in a kindly way in the media. Nowadays, the following comment is more typical

“The young tax-paying population has to fund, to its detriment, an ageing society.”

Newspaper comment.
But roughly 12 million older people are central, some say critically so, to Britain’s economic affairs and subject to close scrutiny as to its needs and responsibilities, and to the vagaries of government.

The NUJ Code of Conduct explains that; “Language can be a powerful tool in shaping views and reflecting public attitudes both of which can form barriers that prevent people of every age from integration and participation in society. Nor should journalists produce material that is likely to influence opinion adversely or to discrimination on the grounds a person’s or peoples age.”
The British Medical Journal pointed out that despite evidence (that over 65s are the safest drivers) many European governments have enacted restrictive legislation, and asks “Might it be that a negative image of elderly drivers in the media could be an important part of shaping public and medical opinion.”

People reaching 60 or 65 do not automatically take on the characteristics of old age. So diverse a group is difficult to stereotype; the media though manages to do so.

The NUJ says that: “old itself is loaded with assumptions of neediness and ineptness that terrify the young and undermine the old robbing them of self respect, damaging their health and welfare. Terms such as Granny and Pensioner encourage negative stereotypes.”
The use of “old” is a trap to the unwary. Of the COD’s 500 words or phrases defining “Old”, about 10 are complimentary while the rest are derogatory – many as in “old maid” doubly insulting. In contrast “Young” takes up a quarter of the length of “Old” the worst said of them saying “immature or inexperienced.”

An example of stereotyping – “OAP 70 in Court for…

Local newspaper
Older people are not an amorphous mass but millions of individuals with differences of background, wealth, health, and demeanour so that when one person, or a group of older people, are the subject of a news story or feature think.

e.g. Pensioners receive pensions, Veterans have grown old in a profession. Adding a person’s age, Roy Jones aged 62 is factual and probably relevant, although frowned upon by some.

There is no accepted catch-all word for the 60+ age group but “older people” has become the most used and covers well such a diverse grouping. Words like old, aged, a pensioner or 70 throw no light on the subject.

Who are the ‘Old’ and what do they do?
They encompass every part of life’s rich pageant, Men and women, rich and poor, dull and clever, fit and unfit, Tory and Labour and every other political hue, bankers, trades people, labourers, astronauts, middle, working and the ruling classes, public school educated and the uneducated.

But according to Nick Clegg on Radio 4 a few months ago, they don’t do a lot. He said that “the so-called ‘Snoopers’ Charter’ will even cover (all) grandparents who do nothing more exciting than going to a garden centre.”

But it is well-known that a third work and a half pay taxes! All of the them do some or all of the following; tend to their own families, care for young and old, contribute to their communities in all their facets: sport, leisure to culture, filling theatres and cinemas, read books and newspapers, listen to watch current affairs and news programmes and join phone-ins,

They do all of these things and more – journalists would do well to take time to discover what and give the rounded picture of them they deserve.

Are they a burden or a valuable asset to society?

Politicians and the media claim daily that the country can’t afford the older generation and further having escaped the austerity cuts endured by the rest should lose benefits such as free bus travel, winter fuel allowance, free prescriptions and TV licences

“The young are paying for the old now and in the future”

The Guardian
However, in 2010 a survey by the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service showed that every year, pensioners add £40 billion more to the economy than they receive in pensions, care and benefits.

They do this by paying income tax and indirect taxes (such as VAT), as child carers, by looking after spouses and by doing voluntary work.

“Older people are the glue that hold our society together”
AgeUK spokesperson

The nation has the best of the bargain in maintaining older people to carry on being able to help in so many ways.

There is A GOLDEN RULE for those reporting on older people and issues: Ask yourself whether the words like old, elderly or aged are appropriate. If they are not necessary or relevant to the story, don’t include them.


Roy Jones

Chair, National Union of Journalists’ 60+ section

Roy Jones is a 60+ activist and Chair of the National Union of journalists’ 60 T section.