EDITORIAL: Institutionalised Media Racism

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Much controversy surrounds the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair's recent remarks calling the media “institutionally racist.” These words have caused quite a stir and have had media outlets falling over each other to find suitable voices to stage manage their rebuttal.

This condemnation echoes a charge which has been levelled at the media for some time by ethnic minorities throughout Britain; Sir Ian simply amplified the charge by adding his voice to the cacophony of accusations put forward by ethnic communities. The media have dismissed his remarks as out-of-hand, ill-informed, and poorly timed, and have racketed up calls for his resignation, citing his mishandling of the De Menezes shooting and questionable judgement. So why are the media in such a spin?

The short and simple answer is: HYPOCRISY! The media were the first to cast their stones, after the Macpherson report famously labelled the Metropolitan Police Force as “institutionally racist,” deflecting attention from themselves by throwing the largest stones.

The racism of the media has gone unchallenged, unquestioned, and uninvestigated, leaving many minorities without any faith in the media or any voice with which to counter the racial stereotypes it perpetuates. One need only glance at the daily papers to read reports of Yardie drugs gangs, fraudulent asylum seekers, foreign prostitute rings, and the perpetually negative portrayal of entire ethnic communities by the media. The widely reported stories of a black man raping a school girl in her bedroom and the story of black men in a BMW driving through Northhampton raping white women both turned out to be false, but the media gave little attention to these discovered facts. The disparity in the presentation of cases in the media is outrageous, yet media outlets still find Sir Ian’s timely yet overdue remarks “shocking.”

Sir Ian argued that, with given exceptions, there was less media attention given to murders within ethnic communities than those within white communities, citing the difference in reporting between the murders of white lawyer, Tom ap Rhys Pryce and Asian builders merchant Balbir Matharu. Sir Ian also said he could not understand “why the Soham murders became the biggest story in Britain”: a remark which, despite his later retraction, may haunt him for the rest of his career. Richard Burns of the Metropolitan Police Authority said: “He couldn’t understand that this one became the biggest story in Britain – well I can. It was two little girls who got murdered, who were missing, who were reported missing for ten days by their local police.”

The Soham murders were shocking, but was the media interest solely that these were “two little girls”? Or did the fact that they were two little white girls have anything to do with it? When Tony-Ann Byfield, a seven-year-old black child, was shot in a double murder alongside her father, the media headlines were incomparable. In fact, the tabloids and news stories the day following her funeral were saturated with stories about Concord’s final flight. Is there any surprise Sir Ian’s remarks struck a chord with the ethnic communities of Britain and earned him the media’s scorn?

In 2004, I produced Bang! Bang! In Da Manor, a documentary which covered the subject of media racism and which used the exact reference of the Soham Case in regards to murders within ethnic communities. Participants openly criticised the media for its racist reporting.

The media is in denial about its own racism and hypocrisy. You have some journalists snorting two lines of “Charlie” for creative inspiration and then writing the page seven story on how Yardie gangs are flooding Britain with cocaine. “Kate Moss coping with Addiction” appears on the front page, and “Lock Em Up” appears on page nine. Whites are portrayed as victims and blacks as perpetrators.

As a journalist, I have had my fair share of these encounters. Once, whilst doing a programme for Channel 4 about gangs in Britain, I became exasperated when the producers presented my subjects for interview: solely black gangs and black individuals. When I questioned the liberal producer about this, she replied: “There are no real white gangs; the white gangs are influenced by the black ones.” It is very often this white liberal voice of ignorance that dominates column space and airtime to incorrectly and inappropriately articulate the black experience. Or the media finds a black face, desperate to be known, who will sacrifice accuracy on the altar of ambition to propagate the notions of mainstream prejudice.

Britain needs to ask itself if it is by sheer talent alone that David Rodigan is its most famous Reggae DJ, Tim Westwood its most famous Hip Hop DJ, and Tony Blackburn its most famous Soul DJ. Britain needs to ask itself why black artists across the board find it so difficult to make a mark in this country and why we at Rice N Peas had to establish our own independent production company.

Sir Ian Blair has exposed a very raw nerve in Britain and has hopefully sparked a debate which will continue far beyond the detracting headlines calling for his resignation. The media which has long served as chief inquisitor, now finds itself in the dock. However, due to the unbridled power of media censorship, no one will be able to hear the witnesses give their damning testimonies.

By Ishmahil Blagrove, Jr
Editor/ riceNpeas.com

1st February 2006

View trailer from Bang! Bang! In Da Manor (2004), where Dr Lez Henry discusses the issue of biased media reporting.

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