Silence is Golden : a Critical Discourse Analysis of the Representation of Billionaires and Economic Inequality in the Swedish News Media
Sammanfattning: Economic inequality is growing rapidly worldwide. Despite research showing that higher inequality within a society corresponds with a higher rate of public health and social problems, there exist little organized resistance against the neo-liberal economic policies that allow the super-rich to pull away from the rest of the population. Even though the causes of poverty cannot be separated from the causes of wealth, poverty has increasingly come to be viewed as a problem that can be solved without worrying about the rich. This thesis embarks from the standpoint that the representations in the news media play a significant role in legitimizing, challenging or in other ways affecting the extent to which the super-rich are regarded as morally deserving their wealth. With the aim of enhancing our understanding of economic inequality and the mediation of the gap between rich and poor, the present thesis investigates how a selection of billionaires was discursively represented in Sweden’s four largest newspapers during 2017. By using tools from critical discourse analysis, the thesis shows how the news media to a great extent do not problematize the increasing wealth of the super-rich within the context of growing economic inequality. The super-rich are represented as a secret community that rarely talks to the press, and while media silence and absence has usually been linked to powerlessness, this thesis instead considers this “struggle for invisibility” as a powerful strategy for maintaining the inequality gap. The analysis further shows how the philanthropy of the super-rich is represented as acts of admirable charity, rather than expressions of absurd inequality. The thesis links these representations to ongoing trends where neo-liberal discourses – centered on individualization and de-politization – have come to enjoy an increasingly hegemonic position, affecting both the production and content of journalism. The mediation of economic inequality has remained an under-researched topic within the field. The conclusions of this study – that the news media are more interested in gazing at the spectacle of the super-rich than critically examining them – suggest that more critical research is needed if the news media’s role as watchdogs for democracy is to prevail.
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