On one hand he has tried more than any predecessor to diversify the force, yet police mistrust amongst
And so, while his comments last week that the media was “institutionally racist” has some truth to them, he displayed some naivety on how the industry works.
I don’t buy his argument at face value, like the 1990 Trust has for example, that everything is so clear cut.
To be sure, there are several areas of concern that the industry is slowly waking up to.
The scandalously low number of ethnic minorities who work in the industry, despite it being largely London based. While nearly 40% of the population is non-white in the capital, the same goes for only around 5% of journalists.
Ignorance around issues that concern different racial and faith communities is also frequently cited as a concern, as is the negative coverage around asylum seekers, immigrants and gypsies.
But let’s start from the assumption that although the press lead their audiences to specific stories, they are essentially profit making enterprises that have to judge the values and moods of their readers. In most part it is changing values at grassroots level that force the media to re-examine their reporting, not the other way round.
So while overt racism was tolerated a few decades ago, now even the right-wing press is open in its condemnation of such charges and therefore reacted with defensiveness over Sir Blair’s charges.
Some of the accusations are unfair. A brutal murder in Britain will attract more attention than 10 in a foreign country because the audience reaction will be different. As someone pointed out on the Guardian Blog, “we need to be realistic and accept that shared racial cultural and geographical factors matter.”
There are other factors too.
1) The timing : stories during “silly season” or slow news days get greater prominence.
2) The rarity of occurence: violence attacks on very old people or young girls is still thankfully rare, and will attract greater attention.
3) Subsequent related events that keep highlighting the crime
The biggest gripe is with how race in Britain is covered. Largely, there is the feeling that the media still sees non-white Britons as outsiders and therefore treats them as such, specially when it comes to racial tension.
Another poster on the Guardian blog says: “Generally, according to the UK media: White gang attacks black and asian men = race attack. Asian gang attacks black and white men = rampage. Black gang attacks asian and white men = race war. [Ian] Blair is spot on but only identified a small part of the picture.”
There is also a fair degree of political correctness when dealing with race. The press seems to regard black-on-black crime as a too common occurence, therefore it is not paid much attention.
Others such as writer Sarfraz Manzoor have pointed out that the deaths of Stephen Lawrence, Damilola Taylor and Anthony Walker also “fit a particular narrative that the media like to play up – ‘the saintly black boy’ – which explains why they received the type of coverage they did.”
Racist attacks by one ethnic minority on another can also sometimes be buried due to fears it may lead to accusations of racism. There was hardly any coverage of Isiah Young-Sam’s murder by a gang of Asians during the Birmingham riots last year for example.
There was also considerable anger in the blogging community over the murder of Christopher Yates not being branded as racist by the judge.
The media’s response to race in general is mixed. The right-wing press frequently goes overboard with accusations of too much political correctness over issues while the ethnic and liberal press sometime downplay racism amongst minority communities.
The police itself is not above political or media considerations either, and it has quite rightly been accused of such bias.
Nevertheless, an important debate has surfaced and it is important to understand the nuances of the media industry before taking traditional positions one way or another. That the press, more so than the broadcasting industry, is patronising when it comes to covering race, is undeniable.
But let’s not get too hysterical about it.
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Filed in: Race politics