Play Populism Bingo

By Becky Parry

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As 2016 closed it was hard to avoid the sound of journalists sharpening their obituary writing pencils. The ill concealed glee at the death of another celebrity seemed to provide a welcome break from the same old, same old news generated by elections and referendums. And who wouldn’t prefer to watch a David Bowie retrospective or a Victoria Wood special than listen to guffawing politicians swilling beer whilst pretending to be ‘the voice of the ordinary people’? Perhaps most shocking was the ease with which voters were won over by the impossible promises, misuse of statistics and fear mongering on offer. We may like complexity, nuance and ambiguity in our idols, but we don’t seem to appreciate these qualities in our politicians or our journalists.

It was therefore with a mix of amusement and awe that I reacted to my encounter with Populism Bingo, one of many resources of Kavi, the National Audiovisual Institute, Dept for Media Education and Audiovisual Media in (you guessed it) Finland!

Why amusement? The game invites students to analyse political speeches and spot the populist tactics – the winner spots them all. I chuckled to myself (yes demonically) thinking of all those staff meetings spent playing ‘Jargon Bingo,’ spotting the latest euphemisms for cuts or redundancy. This sounded like fun! I was grateful to Saara Salomaa, a specialist media educator from the institute, for introducing it to me.

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And why was I awe-struck? It struck me that this resource could only be produced in a country where media education is enshrined in law and an integral part of the curriculum. Neither are true of the UK and we certainly don’t have a government supported agency in charge of media education parallel to the one in Finland. The level of intellectual challenge and criticality demanded in this seemingly light-hearted game, speaks of a country comfortable with the role of the public in holding their politicians and journalists to account. And this was one of many resources (also available in English) encouraging children to engage critically, creatively and competently with the media. Significantly, Saara was visiting academics in the UK such as Professors Guy Merchant and Cathy Burnett with whom I have recently published Literacy, Media Technology: Past, Present Future. The visit was part of DigiLitEY a European funded project, enabling the dissemination of research focused on the very youngest children’s engagements with media. There is no shortage of relevant expertise and internationally renowned research in media education in the UK.

So, what matters to me this week is whether UK politicians and journalists could stop the ghoulish celebrity ambulance chasing and start to hold the population in enough esteem to campaign and report morally, ethically and with respect for expert professional opinion. Well maybe someday, if media education becomes enshrined in law in the UK and part of the curriculum they might. At least the young would then be able to spot the worst excesses of populist politics and journalism. In the meantime we will all have to play Populism Bingo! I think David and Victoria would approve.

Becky Parry is an Assistant Professor at the University of Nottingham in the School of Education.

The School of Education takes no institutional position and all authors’ views are their own.

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