Many Black people, particularly young ones, I have spoken with think the “riots” were badly reported, with those involved not interviewed and nasty stereotypes about them being used by biased journalists.
That is why new UK charity the Citizen Journalism Educational Trust partnered with The-Latest.Com, Britain’s first dedicated citizen journalism website, has decided to bring together young people from the areas affected and media practitioners to hold one of the most important debates of our time. We want to learn lessons and come up with positive solutions.
The conference will deal with questions like:
- How objective was the reporting of the disturbances?
- Did the mainstream broadcast media like the BBC, ITV and Sky allow their own reporters’ moral attitudes to the emotive events seep into the reporting and how were young people involved in the disturbances stereotyped?
- Did the news media allow themselves to be manipulated by politicians and police who mobilised a huge PR operation to peddle an agenda that was heavy on law and order crack downs but light on social and economic causes?
- Did news media collude with police, for instance, by disseminating misinformation and demonising Mark Duggan, the Black, male victim of the fatal shooting by police in Tottenham that sparked the disturbances, fuelling a sense of alienation and distrust among Black people, poor people and the youth?
- Were the voices of the rioters and looters themselves reported?
- What role did social media, like Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry messaging, play?
Some commentators say that in the early stages of the disturbances the mainstream broadcast media seemed to be cheer leading the police and politicians to adopt more heavy-handed tactics towards rioters suggesting that the army could brought in or the police issued with tear gas, water cannon and plastic bullets. Was this right? The Daily Mail splashed on a story about a young teenaged girl being raped during the height of a riot, a story police said was untrue.
Academic David Starkey, a highly paid darling of television studios because of his outrageous comments, caused uproar when, virtually unchallenged by a TV presenter, he claimed “whites have become black" and that this widespread acceptance of "a particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic gangster culture" had led to the rioting.
The remarks were condemned by ex-Fleet Street editor Piers Morgan, Labour Leader Ed Miliband and others. Yet there are many examples of rioters being stereotyped in this way in the media, without dissent.
The BBC had to apologise to veteran broadcaster, writer and activist Darcus Howe after a TV presenter Fiona Armstrong accused him of having rioted himself some years ago.
There were alarming calls from senior politicians and police for social media, like Facebook and BlackBerry messaging, to be shut down at times of civil unrest – a blatant attack on free speech. Sky’s Kay Birley was almost as biased when I appeared on her show with police Flying Squad chief John Connor, whom she clearly favoured.
Significantly, foreign coverage of the disturbances was much more balanced than British reporting in terms of the images used, analysis and breadth of interviewees. In Britain, social media, including The-Latest.Com, which I edit, provided a refreshingly alternative view of the dramatic and socially challenging events from the street upwards rather than the other way round.
I hope many people will join mainstream and alternative media organisations, journalists, bloggers, community representatives, including young people, and pundits (from home and abroad) at this groundbreaking conference that will be geared to answering important questions about the news media and finding solutions. Details are on The-Latest.Com
Among the speaker joining me will be highly respected academic and community activist Professor Gus John, a government advisor, social media expert Dr Mariann Hardey, of Durham University, Tottenham youth worker Symeon Brown, who is working on a special Guardian and London School of Economics project examining the riots, Maxie Hayles, of Birmingham Racial Attacks Monitoring Unit and many others.
Backers include media luminaries at the BBC’s College of Journalism, the Guardian, London College of Communication, South Bank University, Goldsmith’s, Brunel University, Kingston University, Durham University, University of Lincoln, University of Leicester, The Big Issue, Voice and Gleaner newspapers, GV Media, Chronicle.org, journalism.co.uk, Engage Enterprise, Colourful Radio, Voice of Africa Radio, visionOntv, Tottenham Defence Campaign, The Monitoring Group, Society of Black Lawyers, Operation Black Vote, The Afia Trust, Trust for London, Metropolitan Housing Trust, Media Trust's Community Newswire, Haringey Young People Empowered, Southwark Arts Forum, Strategic Alliance of Communities Rejecting Youth Destruction, National Union of Journalists London Freelance Branch, Unite 524 London and East, City University UCU, citizen journalists, scholars and bloggers, young people and community activists.
And on Twitter.
Please spread the word far and wide by sharing these links on your Facebook wall and by tweeting.
In other news, the Media Trust’s Community Newswire service has given the event a write up.
* Media and the Riots Conference, Saturday November 26, 10am-3pm, London College of Communication, London SE1 6SB.