Let’s get fiscal

Nury Vittachi demystifies the media hype 
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Accountants are embezzlers, Google news tells us!

Nury Vittachi

Hong Kong’s humorist no longer trusts the media

What do accountants spend most of their time doing? Embezzling vast amounts of money from businesses, individual clients, and governments.

“Wait,” you say. “That can’t be right. That’s not our activity. Only some of us do that in our tea breaks.”

Apparently not. Check the evidence yourself. Type “accountant” into Google’s news search function and see what comes up.

The result: Page after page of stories of accountants stealing stuff.

The number of such reports outweighs all news items put together of accountants doing normal accountant stuff such as auditing companies, filing tax returns, buying dark suits, telling bad jokes, spilling coffee on their white shirts, flying to Bermuda with suitcases of cash, etc. In other words, the accountancy profession is a victim of the media’s (and humanity’s) inherent bias towards bad news.

I first got interested in this some years ago when there was a spate of articles about piano teachers molesting students. I was shocked. Piano teachers might be slow-rocking, hollow-eyed obsessives on the spectrum, yes, but uniquely evil?

Then came a spate of articles about DJs doing the same crime. I was shocked. Who’d have thought that piano teachers and DJs were uniquely evil?

Then came articles about Catholic priests being uniquely evil, British parliamentarians being uniquely evil, etc, etc.

Eventually it clicked. Pretty much everybody in the world, when they were young, had to fight off creepy guys occasionally, right? That’s 7.6 billion victims. So any journalist asking “has anyone been sexually harassed by a [insert profession here]?” is guaranteed to get a significant number of people saying yes.

“Once a master narrative has been set, it is very difficult to get journalists to see that their narrative is simply one way, and not necessarily the correct or best way, of viewing people and events,” said Andrew Cline, a professor at Missouri State University’s Department of Media, Journalism and Film, who is an authority on this topic.

The eventual result is that the media delivers the opposite of the truth. As mentioned on this page before, the BBC pays more to women than other organizations, contrary to conventional wisdom. Similarly, people in accountancy do more than their share of positive actions for the commercial world, teachers and church ministers do more than their share of positive actions in the caring sector, and DJs make an important contribution to society by, er, well, I don’t know, they play horribly bass-heavy music with evil lyrics destroying young lives, which I suppose is good if you like that kind of thing.

Anyway, a November 2017 study of sexual harassment cases in the United States showed that the worst professions were hotel, food services, retail trade and manufacturing. Piano teachers didn’t even make the top ten, and we all know that accountants reproduce asexually, like algae, water fleas and mushrooms.

But here’s the curious thing.

Since we in the media are constantly implying that all accountants are embezzlers, and all other groups are molesters, etc. how do those professions manage to carry on?

“Because no one takes journalists seriously any more,” said a teacher of journalism at a Hong Kong university who did not want her name used because she wants to keep her job.

I wonder why this doesn’t get reported on the media? I’d love to turn on the TV to find a newscaster saying: “Breaking news: Nobody believes us any more.”

My colleagues have much the same attitude. One says that whenever he hears a surprising piece of news, he asks himself: “Is it true or is it CNN?”

This columnist certainly no longer trusts the mainstream media; fortunately I still have the voices in my head.

Any accountant reading this can now go back to what you normally do. And I don’t mean embezzling. 

Nury Vittachi is a bestselling author, columnist, lecturer and TV host. He wrote three storybooks for the Institute, May Moon and the Secrets of the CPAs, May Moon Rescues the World Economy and May Moon’s Book of Choices.

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