Reporting On Race

 Race — Britain’s Rawest Media Nerveracism-media

Claims of media bias are a common enough occurrence these days. Disgruntled politicians, Palace flunkies, errant footballers  and coked-up celebrities take it out on journalists all the time. Even the great and the good — nobles, parlimentarians, bishops and judges in all their finery — react in anger to unwarranted press criticism and abuse.

But what you don’t hear much about are the complaints by Afro-British people against the unrelenting prejudices and negative stereotypes they face in the popular, mainstream media. It appears to them as if journalists, editors and media owners have taken a step back in time.

For 70years, the same old media prejudices
Headlined stories conjure up images of raw Caribbean immigrants fresh off the postwar Windrush boat decades ago rather the aspiring urbanites and Londoners that many of them are today.

To a certain degree there is a good reason for racial minorities to think their perspectives are at best warped by the media or, worse, not heard at all. Why? The answer lies, in large part, in the media’s image as “white, male and middle class”. Greg Dyke, when director general of the BBC, acknowledged that the powerful, globe-girdling news organisation was “hideously white”.

Furthermore, media studies suggest that journalists, editors and media owners don’t see their race as an essential feature of their identities. Strange. But Black youth of the hip-hop generation, see the dominant media are most certainly Caucasian, or you might say, Anglo-Saxon,  and speak for a white nation, which expects all others to conform to its ways. 

Measuring impacts
The evidence shows that understanding Race and the Media is one crucial barometer to  measure the quality of press reporting and its effect on public attitudes and views about Black people. Hence, continuous monitoring of the press — newspapers, radio, tv and online —  is essential.

Those who know media journalism say it’s time for a reality check. Therefore, we’ve woven issues of race and the media into this web blog. We aim to help counter the perceived biases and to give communities, experts, and their allies, a web site to propose solutions and appropriate actions.

Historic media prejudice
It’s worth stating the fundamental issue at stake here. When the modern settlers from the Caribbean and later from Africa arrived in Britain, they faced, in large part, a hostile press.

Experts like Beryl Ainley and Professor Stuart Hall have helped us to target the race-linked press themes.  CRIME, DRUGS, ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION OFFENCES, were routinely regarded as BLACK CRIMES. Newspaper headlines made it apparent that it was a “coloured person who did it” — a practice for which the press has often been criticised. 

The paradox is that prejudice in the newsrooms, despite modest gains in race equality, is still unambiguously negative. RIOTS, VIOLENCE, CRIME, DRUG TRAFFICING, WELFARE SCROUNGERS and BENEFIT CHEATS — scream the headlines of today’s press.

Time for change
The research evidence shows that the media reinforces stereotyped thinking about race, colour and class. They can inflame public fears and racial hatred and fuel the rise of racist, neo-nazi parties and organisations.

Fortunately, led by Black newspapers, radio and TV, and the Black Members Council of the National Union of Journalists, there is a groundswell of opinion demanding fundamental changes in media power, attitude and style. Online scholars and activists, citizen journalists and bloggers have increasingly added their support.

Change must start in the media boardrooms and reach right down to the news desks. “Hiring practices at all levels should reflect the diverse groups in society”, say many. Nothing less than this is needed  if the media industries, the colleges and  and journalism schools that feed them are to overcome their pervasive reputation of inequality.

Shaping media ethics
Professional journalists cannot be complacent about their social role.  A  serious critique of the mass media’s handling of race relations is long over due.

And, this is no idle observation. The influence of the press upon public attitudes and morals is so great at the present that the “race question” ought not to be regarded indifferently. Urgently needed are principles and guidlines for the  most socially sensitive “best media practices”.

Questions to answer
The good spirit of the people, the press and their readers and viewers must be roused in order to curb the worst media excesses. Here are some key questions for comment and debate.

In your opinion, is the press behaving improperly on race issues? What are your pet peeves about media reporting on Black communities? Are guidelines needed to curb the excesses in media representation of minorities? 

The most powerful leaders and media owners and editors must be drawn into resolving race-media issues; chief among them is Rupert Murdoch, head of a $48bn media empire, including the Sun, the Times and BkyB in the UK. 

Should media bias be more firmly targeted by media ethics groups such as the MediaWise Trust, and closely monitored by the watch dog agencies: the Press Complaints Authority, the Broadcasting Standards Commission and Ofcom?

What lessons can be learned from “Fair Media” advocates in America, the civil rights leaders, public affairs groups, and journalist organisations that challenge biases in the media industry?

Send us a Comment. You can help shape an AlterNet debate and action on one of the most important issues of our times.