Institutional Racism and the British Media

By Various | Sat 28 January 2006

The British media exposes its racist core in a belligerent attempt to prove itself not institutionally racist.

During a scrutiny meeting with the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) Ian Blair, the Metropolitan police commissioner exposed the institutionalised racism present in the British media. It occurred whilst he was answering a question from Cindy Butts, the MPA deputy chair about whether the MPS gave a "proportional response" to all murders.

He replied; "We do devote the same level of resources to murders in relation to their difficulty… What the difference is, is how these are reported. I actually believe that the media is guilty of institutional racism in the way they report deaths."

As an example he chose to highlight several cases. Blair questioned the discriminatory nature of media coverage given to the murder of Balbir Matharu and that of solicitor Tom ap Rhys Pryce.

He stated that; "That death of the young lawyer was terrible, but an Asian man was dragged to his death, a woman was chopped up in Lewisham, [an African] chap shot in the head in a Trident murder - they got a paragraph on page 97.” He said that while the murders of two schoolgirls in Soham in 2002 were "dreadful crimes" he had been surprised at how much coverage the murders received in context to the matter at hand.

Institutional Racism and The British Media

Ian Blair, Metropolitan police commissioner was attacked on numerous fronts by the British media when he revealed that their news coverage of murders was institutionally racist. Many argued that Blair’s inclusion of the Soham murders for purpose of comparison was insensitive. As a result he promptly issued an apology to those concerned. Nonetheless the central tenant of his argument was sound despite the imperfection of its delivery. The fact remains that if both the missing Soham girls were African boys then the media coverage would not have been the same. We only need look at how the media is reporting this story to see evidence of this bias.

African means of less human value to media
For over five years Ligali has exposed the institutional racism which exists in the media. In response there has been nothing but wall to wall denial from a media protected by media regulator Ofcom. In contrast, during a two minute section of a three hour debate the head of an organisation itself found to be institutionally racist claims the same and suddenly there is national furore. This time there is blanket media denial backed by a ferocious attack on the competence and integrity of the messenger. The only difference is that in the first instance the accusation comes from the collective mouths of African people, in the latter it comes from a single european individual.

Attacking judgement, authority and reputation
Instead of dealing with the message a significant amount of media coverage focused on the messenger ignoring the racism issue and instead aggressively targeting Ian Blair. Several media pundits have even claimed that Blair used this issue to divert attention from himself whilst embroiled in a high profile IPCC investigation. They ignored the fact that Blair’s experience in the Metropolitan police placed him in the best position to recognise institutional racism from the outside.

From the Daily Mail to Sky News, the questions repeatedly asked was how many more ‘mistakes’ before his position becomes untenable as Nick Ferrari, the anti-African LBC shock jock called him ‘incompetent’. A belligerent Daily Mail editorial states “the real stupidity of Sir Ian’s remarks are that they have sidelined his assertion that the media is institutionally racist” the mail hypocritical stating it is “a subject that is worthy of robust debate”. The Daily Telegraph takes similar potshots denying it devalues African life whilst in its Saturday paper has images of impoverished African children under a patronising charity headline entitled “Where 25p can save a life… Charles More travels deep into Rwanda”. Some even claimed Blair sought to divert trouble form his own pending troubles.

But none other than the BBC home affairs correspondent Margaret Gilmore reported that Blair had previously raised the issue of the media’s institutionalised racism on numerous occasions and that “he really does care about it”.

Soham Exploited
The media ruthlessly exploited the public sympathy generated by the ill-received Soham reference to attack Blair’s judgement. Instead of focusing on the main story about institutional racism, several anti-African tabloids ran huge headlines such as the Sun stating he had “Lost The Plot” and the Daily Express with its front page caption “Has this political correct police chief finally gone of his head?”.

The Sun’s crime editor Mike Sullivan who was one of those guilty parties indirectly addressed by Blair’s revelation reported that Bob McLachlan the former head of the Met’s child rape/abuse unit had said “Blair has abused the memory of those two girls for his own political purposes”. Yet the Sun did exactly this in it's editorial by marginalised the main charge of racism and in a piece named ‘Soham Slur’ which focused totally on denigrating Blair’s reputation.

The former editor of the Sun, David Yelland went on to tell the BBC that he though Blair was wrong to label the media racist. He said; "It's a very big word. To use that word, to say racist about anybody - particularly people in broadcasting and the media - is a very big thing for him to say, a very, very big thing indeed - and I think he's way out of line."

Typical Moral Hypocrisy
Indeed despite all this ire, the Sun, a tabloid with the dubious reputation of being the nation’s second most racist paper could not resist exposing its typical moral hypocrisy by publishing a picture referring to the final house mates of the Celebrity Big Brother TV programme opposite its main “Lost The Plot” article. The picture showed the American TV personality Traci Bingham topless whilst the other contestants remain fully clothed. They were all european. She was African.

Likewise both the Mail (the nation’s most racist tabloid) and Express chose to sensationalise stories on the opposite page of the Blair article to encourage anti-African sentiment. The headlines which read “Non-white British population rises by 500,000 in two years” and “One in seven people in England is non-white” presented African and minority communities as an immigrant threat to Britain. The Express went further and ran a joint story headlined “We’re losing fight against muggers..”.

The Denial

“The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their race, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people. Racism persists because of the failure of the organisation to openly and adequately recognise and address it existence and its causes by policy, example and leadership. Without recognition and action to eliminate such racism it can prevail as part of the ethos or culture of the organisation.”
Definition of Institutional Racism

The vehemously anti-African Daily Mail’s writes in its editorial; “The first thing to be said is that the word ‘institutional’ is far to generalised to be useful. There are good and bad things about all organisations – and to blame everyone is unhelpful. In recent years, the Mail has welcomed many black and Asian readers and we reflect that in the paper… The head of the Muslim Council singles out the mail of its handling of the Lawrence murder as does the CRE”.

But this statement reveals the Mail is prepared to act as if it has no understanding of the collective actions and responsibility of an organisation as defined by the Macpherson report.

The Mail continues with its dupliciousness and states; “the word institutional is by its sweeping nature a serious charge (one, incidentally likely to stir up community resentment)”. The paper then takes credit for instigating the term by bragging that “it was the Mail that risked the jailing of its editor and a huge libel action.. it was that and our subsequent campaign for justice for Stephen that led to the Macpherson inquiry”. It refuses to acknowledge that the justifiable resentment from minority communities was always there. Instead it abuses its influence to gather supporting statements from existing African and Asian contacts to bolster its transparently flimsy defence.

Tim Luckhurst a media commentator for the BBC said Blair was “trying to make a sinister point, he wants the media to help him, and help the police investigate crime. [But] It is the job of the media to help hold the police to account, not solve the crime”.

This is clearly nonsense and Luckhursts deliberate distortion of Blair comments exposes his intent to malign the racism debate at all costs.

Cindy Butts of the MPA explained how the media helps encourage witnesses to come forward and raise public awareness of criminality. Luckhurst and others such as Phil Hall, Former editor of the anti-African tabloid News of the World claimed that ethnicity was not an issue when it came to publishing news.

Hall claims; “Newspapers will choose one murder, one crime a day and focus on that, and they will go for the one which is most human, and the one they think their readers will connect with the most of all(sic)”. He failed to point out that the papers almost always focus on more than one crime and that the majority readership of all the implicated media is european.

That is, the exact same readership-viewers who recently exploded with faux indignation when Faria Alam, an Asian woman on Channel 4’s 'Celebrity' Big Brother programme pointed out that xenophobic Britain would never vote to let an African or Asian person win a reality TV show.

One media defence stated “Pretty little [dead] girls sell newspapers.. it’s nothing to do with race”. What they failed to explain is that when evaluating “pretty” or “most human” the editors and publishers who are overwhelmingly “hideously white” or “white minded” believe that most African people are and should remain at the bottom rung in the hierarchy of the human “race”.

The Statistical Defence
Press Coverage

Tom ap Rhys Pryce (european)
5,525 words in national press
87% (98 stories) of national press (tabloids)

Balbir Matharu (Asian)
4,443 words in National Press
13% (14 stories) of national press (tabloids)

Source: The Guardian

Although reporting of the issue in the broadsheets was less hysterical it was nonetheless equally as disingenuous as their tabloid counterparts. Most of the public discussions and debates on the issue sourced their facts from the Guardian. Yet the huge disparity between coverage of the Matharu-Pryce stories in the media was deliberately buried in the text written by authors Owen Gibson and Vikram Dodd. Tom ap Rhys Pryce received 87% coverage in the tabloid press compared with 13% for Balbir Matharu.

A BBC survey of some of the national newspapers in the days between Rhys Pryce being killed and two suspects being charged with his murder showed that "more and longer articles were written about him than Mr Matharu". Both the Independent and the Mirror are reported to have not covered the story at all.

The BBC survey continues with the excuse that "In some newspapers long analysis features and leader columns were devoted to the Rhys Pryce killing and the Sun put up a £20,000 reward for information…. But some story numbers are boosted by court reports of two men being charged with murdering Mr Rhys Pryce. No one has been charged with Mr Matharu's murder."

Daily Mail
Rhys Pryce: five
Balbir Matharu: one

Rhys Pryce: five
Balbir Matharu: two

Rhys Pryce: seven
Balbir Matharu: one

Rhys Pryce: three
Balbir Matharu: none

Rhys Pryce: nine
Balbir Matharu: none

Source: BBC News Online

Murder Rates
The publication of the 2001-2004 murder statistics by BBC news asserted that the media bias was fuelled by ethnicity and not racism. The viewer was invited to believe the obvious disparity occurred because there were less African and Asian murder victims compared to that of europeans.

Murder victims (2001/2004) in England and Wales
European: 1943
African/Asian: 433
‘Other’ or ethnicity not known: 229

Source: BBC News Online

Murder victims (April 2000 - April 2003) in England and Wales
African: 254
Asian: 160
European: 1952
Not known:149
Not Recorded: 89

Source: Daily Mail (Goverment figures)

229 - ‘Other’ or ethnicity not known

The Excuses
Kim Fletcher, a media commentator from the Guardian repeated the claim that the stories which are written are those with which their readers will emphasis. He explained that “the readership is middle class that’s why Tom [Rhys Pryce] got more”. He is of course correct.

What Fletcher does not state is that he is refering only to the majority readership. He like others often speaks of the media as a commercial entity but then makes no mention for the need to practice ethical or corporate socially responsible practices.

This is why media institutions such as the Guardian and the BBC can give an unparalleled amount of "news" coverage supporting the "entertaining" anti-African and misogynistic products of Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson. Hiding behind the defence of feeding popular demand to satisfy commercial interests they disingenuously play down the fact that the main consumers of "gangsta rap" are also the children of that "middle class" readership.

Just like numerous far right organisations the national media claim that their racist behaviour is in fact protecting the British principle to "freedom of speech"… as they simultaneously deny any culpability for their actions which perpetuate ideology devaluing the worth of an African life across the world.

The institutional racism within the media gives birth to statements such as “the police are not providing the media with enough information”, there is only “room for one story a time”, “the murder of children gets more attention” and it needs to be a “human interest story”. This is the apathetic attitude which led to the clashes in Birmingham. This is the attitude which justifies the lack of concern facing the real victims from the media’s irresponsible promotion of misogyny and armed criminality in socio-economic deprived communities.

The Evidence... a few examples
Rochelle Holness, 15
Robert Levy, 16
Isiah Young-Sam, 23
Pauline Peart, 25
Zainab Kalako, 35
African deaths in custody

Cindy Butts, MPA deputy chair stated that media coverage plays a significant part in the number of witnesses that come forward after a crime and heightens public awareness about key issues. She and Blair reminded the nation that the media plays an important role in fighting crime. The Sun already knows this and that is why it offered a £20,000 reward for the “human interest” victim.

So what can be done?

“Race alone isn’t as decisive as Sir Ian believes at least not according to researchers who have reviewed coverage of violent deaths”
BBC Newsnight

“Racism is much rare and its not very helpful to get into a row of this kind”
David Rose, The Observer

“Answer: I don’t think its conscious racism all the time”
Yasmin Brown, Independent Columnist

“The Daily Mail didn’t over react”
David Yelland, Editor, The Sun 1998-2003

“A police chief complaining about the media is like a sailor complaining about the sea.”
Gavin Esler, BBC Newsnight

The media first has to own up to the problem.

Recognise that a police chief complaining about the media is like a police chief complaining about the lack of media help in dealing with all criminals and victims of crime.

The media must not do what it typically does in these cases and abuse its position by taking the story out of the public domain to suit its own interests. If the managers, editors, journalists, and all those other peripheral people involved ever locate the collective courage, integrity and political will to publicly admit the problem then they must then establish seperate permanent consultative groups with African and other minority communities to institutionalise solutions.

“Decision making by newspaper editors and broadsheet editors and by television editors over the years has been susceptible to what I would call subliminal racism; in the sense of a perception that the public would be more interested in for example; five young "white" teenagers dying in a car crash than they would be if they were five Asian or “black” teenagers dying in a car crash, and I remember decisions like that coming along and feeling somehow that we were making the wrong decision here and it was by any sense a racist view to down play one against the other and to pretend otherwise is to ignore what the media has done.”
Piers Morgan, Editor, The Daily Mirror 1995-2004

The Police
For a while now Ligali and other community organisations have contacted the various police forces across the UK in several attempts to get access to information relevant to African Britons. The intent was for us to disseminate relevant news to our community which the wider media was burying. Time and time again the police failed in facilitating our request souring relationships with the proactive, young and sometimes assertive elements in our community and only engaging with those who were passive, old and subservient typically with little if any grass roots association. This preferential treatment given to a corporate media that has historically been focused on ratings above solving crime must stop.

Replace the Press Complaints Commission
Not once during this entire national debate did anyone mention the Press Complaints Commission. That is because it is totally useless. An organisation which enables the criminals to investigate their own crimes and does not recognise racism against a community as a justifiable cause for complaint is both incompetent and morally bankrupt.

Build Ofcom’s media regulatory powers into the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR)
The draft Ofcom Broadcasting Code was published for consultation on 14 July 2004. Ligali responded by stating that the phrase “generally accepted” standards is not acceptable as a broadcast paradigm, and suggested Ofcom included the wording: “to ensure that broadcasters provide adequate protection for viewers and listeners from the inclusion of harmful or offensive material, judged against values enshrined in human rights and current British legislation”.

We added that the proposed definitions of “Harm and Offence” were vague and there should be an explicit reference to racism. To its credit Ofcom responded by stating “we have reflected the comments received from Ligali, CRE and other bodies to embrace discrimination issues. We have, therefore, incorporated the six areas of equality which are or will be subject to legislation”. The final Broadcasting Code was published in 25 May 2005.

Despite defining these new clear guidelines the media regulator Ofcom does not and will not act with impartiality on behalf of minority communities upon receiving a complaint about racism in the media. As its preferred mode of operation is to regulate with a ‘light’ touch thereby protecting the commercial interests of its stakeholders this makes it ineffective in challenging media violation of human rights. The newly proposed CEHR should have media regulation as part of its remit backed up by punitive legislative powers.

Support and promote independent African media
The African British community must stop subscribing to anti-African media and instead economically empower independent Africentric media. There is no excuse for any African person in Britain to purchase or support The Mail, The Sun, The Express, The Telegraph, The Times, The News of the World, The Voice, LBC or MTV Base.

External Links
Blink – Ian Blair comments on racism in the media
Guardian - Met chief labels media institutionally racist
BBC - The story of two murder victims

Ligali is not responsible for the content of third party sites

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