Is the British media “institutionally racist”?


by Sunny
30th January, 2006 at 5:48 pm    

Sir Ian Blair, Britain’s chief police office, is a dilemma to deal with.

On one hand he has tried more than any predecessor to diversify the force, yet police mistrust amongst Asians is at an all-time high because of increased stop-and-search policies. He wants to make us safe, but keeps talking about ‘imminent’ terror attacks that keep everyone rattled.

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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  1. Indigo Jo Blogs

    Ian Blair on racism in crime reporting

    Ian Blair the other day found himself in hot water for suggesting that the media display racism in how they report crime. If it’s a white victim, the story gets splashed all over the front pages; if not, it gets…




  1. Pounce — on 30th January, 2006 at 6:03 pm  

    Actually he makes a very valid argument. Personally I think he was attacking the BBC in how it covers crimes by the non white community.
    The BBC rightly or wrongly has a tendency to downplay any crimes committed by the so called ethnic minority. So where if it’s a crime committed by a white person we hear every we need to hear. If he’s black ,brown or increasing so an illegal immigrant. Then the BEEB whitewashes those facts over.
    Killing of a white boy in Glasgow not racist
    Killing of a white boy in London not racist
    Arrest of a terrorist suspect in London he’s a plumber.
    Sorry, but I fully support Blair on this subject. But before anybody shouts racist. I am a first generation Indian living in the Uk who is sick to death on how so many people in the so called ethnic minority are making it harder for me to walk the streets. I am English, I was born here yet idiots who presume I need defending are making the task of integration harder. Thanks a lot BBC.

  2. inders — on 30th January, 2006 at 6:36 pm  

    Pounce thats the exact oppisite of what Blair said. Exact.

  3. Rohin — on 30th January, 2006 at 6:50 pm  

    Precisely inders. When I heard Blair’s comments the other day, I immediately thought of the commenters on here who have said the exact opposite – like Pounce.

    It’s odd that people have such wildly different stances with the same media in front of them. It makes me think that people interpret things as they want to. In all honesty, I have been swayed by both arguments at times.

    There have been murders of white men by black men that have gone by unreported in the mainstream media (the very fact I can’t remember their names without looking up is a testament to the poor exposure). There have been inconsistencies in what is labelled ‘racist’. But then again there have been killings of non-white people by white people that have received less attention that similar photographic negative situations. I think the fact a senior policeman says that carries a lot of weight. As far as I can tell, the media is not institutionally racist, but individual news-sources are.

    I can’t draw a rule for all media – publications like The Guardian have downplayed crime by minority communities, whereas the Sun does the exact reverse.

    Is this bad, or just what one would expect – different opinions from different people?

  4. Pounce — on 30th January, 2006 at 7:15 pm  

    Thank you for the feed back. I still stand by my stance. Until the media starts to report crimes committed by everybody on an equal footing then all we are doing is fueling the fire of future racial problems.
    I targeted the BBC; it’s the BBC which remained somewhat silent on the race riots of Peterborough. (It was between the Pakistanis and illegal immigrants)
    It’s the BBC which rewrote the multiple stabbings in London during Christmas 2004 as the actions of a mentally disturbed person. (Pity he was a Turkish immigrant)
    It was the BBC which remained silent on the riots in Birmingham. Which lets be honest was more to do with religion than just thugs.
    We do have a problem in the Uk and until the Muslims (I was born a Muslim) community (why do we have no problems with Hindu, Sikhs etc…)
    Stops playing the victim card then we can move on. (And lets be honest here the media have somewhat been silenced in saying anything negative about Islam)
    There’s my gripe and I believe it to be an honest one.

  5. Sunny — on 30th January, 2006 at 7:22 pm  

    The BBC wasn’t silent on the Bham riots… the BBC B’ham website was regularly reporting on it before it became big.

    Ian Blair said the exact opposite of what you said Pounce, and he highlighted a case talked about here:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london/4654224.stm

    From the coverage there, you can tell its skewed.

    Plus, all this talk of the media inflating murders of black kids is based on rhetoric than fact.

  6. Jay Singh — on 30th January, 2006 at 7:23 pm  

    I think Pounce is a troll.

    If you are British Born Desi you NEVER refer to yourself as ‘first generation’ as he does

    We are 2nd, 3rd generation etc etc

    Plus the old canard of the ‘Muslims cause all the troubles what about the Sikhs and Hindus’ divide and rule thing.

  7. Pounce — on 30th January, 2006 at 7:25 pm  

    Oh please,
    is that all you people can do when faced with the truth. I’m a troll.
    No mate I’m not a troll.
    I’m somebody who lives in the Uk with a brown face,not so brown body,legs and arms and was born in 1961.
    Now if I have a sister who is named Yasmin, a brother called Salam I can assure you I wasn’t born in Wales.

  8. Jay Singh — on 30th January, 2006 at 7:27 pm  

    What is the truth? You have an opinion, it is one of many, but you still smell like a troll to me.

  9. Pounce — on 30th January, 2006 at 7:37 pm  

    My mistake yes its an opinion. So I stand corrected.
    But the fact that people like you have to hide behind;
    “He’s a troll” make me want to puke.
    That is the attitude I am on about which the media panders to and which stops honest debate across the board. What next? Lobbying the MCB and its Ilk in claming pounce as a bigot. I mean according to you I’m already a troll.

  10. Sunny — on 30th January, 2006 at 7:42 pm  

    It was the BBC which remained silent on the riots in Birmingham. Which lets be honest was more to do with religion than just thugs.

    Lol! You are so clueless about what happened in B’ham aren’t you. Poor little sod. There goes your credibility out of the window.

  11. Jay Singh — on 30th January, 2006 at 7:42 pm  

    Pounce

    Dude – no need to troll – express your opinion honestly and freely, no need to pretend to be British born ‘First Generation’ Indian LoL ;-)

  12. Robert — on 30th January, 2006 at 7:49 pm  

    I can’t find the link where I read this, but a more plausible suggestion is that the press love a story of wasted potential. Thus the studious black teenagers such as Damilola Taylor and Anthony Walker do get coverage, whereas the murder of a middle-aged taxi driver does not.

    As many people have said before, it was the photograph of Hollyandjessica that made the Soham story so big. It was iconic for many reasons, not least because it invokes images of Little Red Riding Hood, getting eaten up by the Big Bad Wolf.

    Personally I think there is as much class bias as their is racial bias in reporting.

  13. Col. Mustafa — on 30th January, 2006 at 7:56 pm  

    Its hard for the media to always get it right; especially for everyone.

    I admit theres alot of news that gets too much coverage and you wonder why after a while.
    It feels as though they have an agenda; or that could just be the drugs

    Its such a wide subject with endless incidents always happening and being reported.

    “While nearly 40% of the population is non-white in the capital, the same goes for only around 5% of journalists.”

    Its obvious we need to have more representation in the media sector.
    I don’t think theres actually a policy whereby they have to report incidents a certain racist way.
    We just need more people from ethnic minorities sharing thier views from inside the media.

    Even among ethnic minorities people differ hugely on a particular incident or subject.

  14. Jay Singh — on 30th January, 2006 at 7:59 pm  

    Robert

    The sheer horror of Soham is what made it such a big story – everything about it was like the worst blackest nightmare from a David Lynch movie come true. Same goes for Moors Murderers. Some murders just play on the psyche so much. Jamie Bulger for example. They are so out of the ordinary.

    People getting stabbed in a drunken fight outside a pub – someone killed in a mugging – even a wofe murdered in a domestic violence dispute – it is horrible to say, but these are so common that they are explicable. Understandable. But certain murders defy conventional explanation and stand out for that reason.

  15. Don — on 30th January, 2006 at 8:04 pm  

    Robert,

    I think I read the same article. The general tenor was that you gain some unacknowledged media ‘points’ for ticking certain boxes (studious, well-adjusted, pretty, ‘innocent’) and lose them if you tick the wrong one’s (drug use, sexual history, looking a bit rough). Race is clearly a factor, but I don’t think it is a coherent policy – more a confusion as to what is appropriate. After all, if a newspaper identifies the race of an assailant, they might very reasonably be asked why. Sometimes it is relevant, sometimes not.

  16. Col. Mustafa — on 30th January, 2006 at 8:04 pm  

    True say Jay.

  17. Col. Mustafa — on 30th January, 2006 at 8:08 pm  

    True say Don.
    Like everything its a hotch potch of cutlery everywhere being assigned to certain plates.
    When theres no need for there to be any right plates.
    Or cutlery for that matter.

    looooooool.

  18. Bikhair — on 30th January, 2006 at 8:08 pm  

    Pickled Purse snatchers,

    I noticed a change in how Latinos and Blacks are portrayed. Maybe 15 years ago, if they needed a gangster in a moive or on T.V., they had blacks, but now they are almost always Latino.

  19. Bikhair — on 30th January, 2006 at 8:09 pm  

    I gotta ask you guys what percentage of the non white population in your country, were born in Britian.

  20. Jay Singh — on 30th January, 2006 at 8:10 pm  

    Take for example Latitia Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis who were killed in the drive by shooting in Birmingham. Gang shootings in Birminham are not regular. Men are shot dead every other week in parts of Birmingham. But because it was two young teenage girls who were shot dead in a gangster feud, it became big news. When something is out of the ordinary, and therfore especially shocking, it makes big news.

  21. Col. Mustafa — on 30th January, 2006 at 8:12 pm  

    Latinos also talk about that, and there the odd few programs here and there that try and place them in any role rather than the typical stereotype.

  22. Jay Singh — on 30th January, 2006 at 8:19 pm  

    Correction – my last post should have said ‘gang shootings in Birmingham are not IRREGULAR’

  23. El Cid — on 30th January, 2006 at 8:34 pm  

    They also like a well spoken Brit as a baddy in Hollywood!
    Regardless, I agree with the sentiments of most expressed here. It’s more than just a black and white thing. Class too, as someone has already said, is a factor.
    What hasn’t been mentioned though is ageism and sexism.
    If you’re a middle-aged average income white man with no family, you’re fucked — unless of course you’ve been kidnapped in Iraq.
    Editors will of course say that all they are trying to do is to connect with their readers. But how can you connect when you don’t share the same experiences/outlooks on life as your readers.
    It is slightly ironic that the key to more balanced crime reporting is greater representation within the media industry of people with different ethnic and economic/educational backgrounds.
    Only then will we not only get more of the social justice/equality of opportunity that move those of us who are left-of-centre, but we will also get less of the PC-liberal-overcompensating culture that so annoys people like Pounce and right-of-centre whites.
    After all, it took a black man to question, rightly or wrongly, Britain’s multicultural paradigm and to be taken seriously by both left and right (Trevor Phillips).
    P.S. I don’t think Pounce is a troll. His mistakes are too obvious.

  24. El Cid — on 30th January, 2006 at 8:55 pm  

    In answer to your question Biccie Biks, I’m not sure.
    7.9 percent of Britain’s population are officially from ethnic minorities. But that doesn’t include white immigrants and their offspring, like me (Is that racist?). Still, if it did include as wops, spics, turks and bubbles it probably wouldn’t rise above 9 percent, unless we include the Irish and Jews, in which case we would probably be well into double figures. And course if we add Huguenots, Danes, Normans, Anglo-Saxons, etc, that would probably be everyone, apart from the Welsh, Cornish and Scots.
    I’m rambling now.
    Anyway, what I do know is that 70-80 percent of people from the mixed race and black carribean groups were born in the UK. That figure slides for other ethnic groups, reflecting their later arrival to the country.

  25. Rohin — on 30th January, 2006 at 9:01 pm  

    “In answer to your question Biccie Biks”

    Your first mistake. Her appearances are decreasing, with a concerted ignorist attititude, she may eventually dissipate after initially annoying everyone. Like a fart.

    Who are the bubbles El Cid?

  26. El Cid — on 30th January, 2006 at 9:11 pm  

    bubble and squeak, rhymes with…

  27. Jay Singh — on 30th January, 2006 at 9:15 pm  

    Is that Cockney rhyming slang for Sikh?? Bubble and Squeak??

  28. El Cid — on 30th January, 2006 at 9:20 pm  

    I think we can safely assume that Sikhs are non-white!!
    In any case, it would have to be “Seekh” to rhyme properly.
    Ever heard of Tony and Chris Lambrianou? Or Georgios Kyriacos?

  29. Jay Singh — on 30th January, 2006 at 9:28 pm  

    Oh right – Greek!

    I didn’t read your post to know you were referring to Europeans!!

  30. El Cid — on 30th January, 2006 at 9:30 pm  

    Actually, Sikh IS pronounced Seekh, now that I think about it (My second mistake. It’s been a long day). But yes, Greek is the answer.

  31. Bikhair — on 30th January, 2006 at 10:26 pm  

    I guess I am the only non biased person here but the fact that you guys can put a name to each and every person that is either stabbed or shot in Britian is pretty spectacular. Maybe it is because I live in a huge city but people get smoked out here all the time. Compton which is like the gang capital of America, though “gangs” exist all over the country, has at least 40 deaths a year from gun violence. Keep in mind that Compton is a city within the larger Los Angeles Area.

    So you Brits better stop crying and arm the law abiding citizens.

  32. Cinnamon — on 31st January, 2006 at 11:16 am  

    The media prints what the government would like us to read, and suppressed that which they prefer we did not think about too much. And when it gets complex, like with the Griffin trial, our shiny knights of the pen and pad are definitly nowhere to be seen!

    So, I would say that the british media is ‘institutionally useless’. :P

    Notice how the Griffin trial is not covered at all? Not one serious journualist capable of a calm, logical analysis is covering this, all I’ve seen were some lightweights hacks with emotional apeals: ‘He is lying, yes he is!’ without any facts to back this up.

    The only in depth account of the trial that I can find is on his ‘Free Speech Blog’ and so far, he actually made a lot of points that are worthwhile investigating, and there is nothing unreasonable there. I’m pretty gutted that much of what he has been saying is left uncontended and even I am beginning to wonder and worry if the man has a point.

    What really happened in Keighley? If we have men who are grooming children, we have a problem in any case, they will not stop at abusing their own family members and they need to be sorted out. If they are not kiddie molesters, then it is important to correct the misconception. Right now, those people are left with the rumour, and that is the worst of both worlds.

    Now, I also have a problem with the Griffin trial in that I’m not willing to discount what he says just because of who he is. Fact is fact, even if the jester is the one who points it out.

    And by not demolishing his arguments in a logical way or solving the problems he is pointing out, the jester may yet have the chance to graduate from fool to serious contender. (!)

    What is also interesting is that Blair said the ‘institutionally racist’ blubb the moment Griffins claimed the same thing as a defense in his trial, just that it was biased against whites.

    Not one hack to juxtapose the religious gag law that is currently going through parliament with either the Griffin or the Hamza trial, not one hack out there, hunting the truth (probably too mundane to print, eh)

    Can someone please sow the balls back onto our newspapers, find their dentures and wake them out of their artificial coma before it is too late?

    Griffins trial blog: http://freespeechontrial.blogspot.com/

  33. Jai — on 31st January, 2006 at 11:38 am  

    El Cid buddy,

    =>”Actually, Sikh IS pronounced Seekh, now that I think about it (My second mistake. It’s been a long day).”

    Yes it is pronounced that way in this part of the world, although technically it’s not supposed to be — the word’s meant to rhyme with (for example) “nick”. However, for obvious reasons I think the pronunciation changed — in spoken English, anyway — after the British came along (as far as I know).

    It’s still pronounced the proper way back in India.

    Your post did make me laugh though — I thought the same thing as Jay. “Bubble & Squeak” lol ;)

    Anyway, that’s enough off-topic clarification from me…..

  34. Contrary Mary — on 31st January, 2006 at 1:21 pm  

    my two pence worth on this is that ethnic minorities are grossly under represented in the media – whether TV (Greg Dyke’s comments on the Beeb being hideously white), radio or newspapers (The Guardian have said much the same as Dyke to me).

    Until there are more ethnic minorities working in the media, the news values of the media will not shift.

    Any story has new values, specific to each publication or programme.

    Stephen Lawrence was covered because his father was working as a painter/decorator at Paul Dacre (editor in chief of the daily mail), and if Stephen hadn’t been planning to be ‘an architect’ it’s very unlikely it would have been covered.

    The Mail newsdesk ask three questions before deciding to proceed with covering a victim story

    1) is the victim university educated
    2) do they own their own house
    3) do their parents own their own house.

    As for the evening standard. their news policy, is ‘white fright’, ie stories that tap into the fears and worst paranoia of a white suburban audience.

    it’s not as simple as institutionally racist – class, education, geography, previous events are all factors. but none as much as which story is going to sell the most papers/or draw the largest audience

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