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Under The Radar – 25 June

Bill Oxford on Unsplash

This week, we discuss:

  1. Britney Spears’ case to end her controversial conservatorship

  2. The landmark victory for working mothers

  3. The report suggesting trust in UK news coverage has grown during the pandemic

Toxic! Britney Spears’ Conservatorship

What happened?

Britney Spears addressed a Los Angeles court this week, calling for an end to the “abusive” conservatorship that has stripped the pop icon of her independence since 2008. She told the court: “I just want my life back.”

What does it mean?

In the modern age of conveyor belt reality television and superficial stardom, one could be forgiven for assuming Britney Spears is merely just another disgruntled celebrity. She is not. The draconian conservatorship has given Spears’ father control over her estate, career, and pretty much her entire personal life for the past thirteen years.

Spears revealed in court that she has been forced to work against her will, and that the conservatorship has blocked her from getting married and even having a baby. Court records obtained by the New York Times this week showed that the arrangement was so strict that it gave her father power over who she dated and befriended, and how she designed her home.

The arrangement has faced increased and renewed scrutiny since the release of the Framing Britney Spears documentary in February earlier this year. The hashtag #FreeBritney has continued to gain traction across social media platforms as fans fight on Spears’ behalf for an end to her heavily restricted way of life. For years, campaigners have highlighted how conservatorships are predominantly intended for older and infirm people, of which, self-evidently, Spears is neither.

We often assume celebrity to be a bestowed privilege, which for the most part it is. But in the case of Britney Spears, her celebrity status means she now finds the world untangling the most private aspects of her personal life, paid as a price to fight for her freedom

Working mothers have their day in court  

What happened?

Gemma Dobson, a nurse who was sacked for refusing to take weekend shifts, won an appeal against her dismissal this week. Dobson worked fixed shifts to care for her three children, two of whom are disabled. Her case will now be reconsidered by the original employment tribunal, after the judge said it must take childcare disparity into account.

What does it mean?

The ruling has been hailed as a landmark victory for working mothers. Mr Justice Choudhury granted Dobson’s appeal on the grounds that the employment tribunal had failed to appreciate the greater burden of caring responsibilities that women bear. According to his judgement, women are less likely to be able to accommodate the same working patterns as men, making Dobson’s claim of unfair dismissal and indirect sex discrimination worth further consideration.

The judge’s statement is corroborated by grim statistics that have emerged from the pandemic. With schools shut around the world, parents lost a vital source of childcare support. And while there has been great progress over the past few decades in what men do to take on a greater proportion of child caring responsibilities, the situation is still far from equal. Women lost over $800 billion in income globally between 2020 and 2021, with more than 2.5 million leaving the workforce in the US alone.

The Government-backed Hampton Alexander review established a target of filling 30 percent of executive positions with women. It’s an admirable aim, but it means nothing without safeguards and fairer employment practices throughout the job ladder. A singular focus on targets leaves us vulnerable to reinforcing existing inequalities and failing to develop a pipeline for female talent. By guaranteeing that other working mothers will not be discriminated against for their fixed schedules, Dobson’s case will hopefully represent a huge step forward.

Trust me I’m a journalist 

What happened?

The Reuters Institute Digital News Report has revealed that trust in news coverage has grown in the UK. The survey, conducted in January, found that 36% of UK respondents “trust most news most of the time” compared with 28% in January 2020. Trust levels are still lower than they were before the Brexit referendum in 2016, when 50% said they trusted the UK media.

What does it mean?

The pandemic has predictably increased the British public’s appetite for reliable and trustworthy news.

Broadcasters like the BBC, ITV, Sky News, and Channel 4 reaped most of the rewards from pandemic news consumption, as did the Financial Times, which led the way for print despite its expensive paywall, while cheaper tabloids trailed behind. Despite the addictive design of social media’s outrage machine, which allowed misinformation to spread as fast as the virus, these results prove that in times of crisis people want news that put facts before sensationalism.

But it’s not clear whether the growth in trust means much over the long term. The media’s failings during the Brexit referendum clearly haven’t been forgiven when comparing the data to 2015, before the political positions of almost every media institution was put under the spotlight during and after the referendum.

Brexit may be ‘done’, but the legacy and divisions it created in the media landscape will take more than just time to heal.

This Week’s Must Reads

  1. ‘Five years on, Brexit – and the forces underlying it – continues to shape public opinion’ Ipsos MORI

  2. ‘Wirecard: a record of deception, disarray and mismanagement’ by Olaf Storbeck for the Financial Times

  3. ‘The revolt against liberalism: what’s driving Poland and Hungary’s nativist turn?’ by Nicholas Mulder for The Guardian

  4. ‘Channel 4 sale would damage world-leading TV production industry’ by Simon Duke for The Times

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