Murder they wrote: Why the British Press is biased in its coverage of murder in the Black community
By Tanura Loha
Britain's number one police officer, Sir Ian Blair's recent pronouncement that the majority of the British press are biased in favour of White middle classes when covering murder and serious crime has caused uproar within the liberal and right-wing press.
Sir Ian points to the way the media devoted greater coverage to the recent horrific murder of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, two White middle class girls from Cambridgeshire, while ignoring the spate of muder of young Black men and women in the inner cities as a classic case of racism in the media.
His comment has outraged many in the media, who are now calling for his resignation. Tanura Loha, the director of The 1990 Trust - an independent website for Black communities - joins the debate
While the horrific murders of the Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were clearly not the right example to illustrate Sir Ian’s point, it does not invalidate the arguments. Racism in the media is a problem that needs to be dealt with.
Balbir Matharu and Tom ap Rhys Pryce provided a much better comparison – and there is no doubt that one murder attracted far more attention that the other. Mr Matharu’s death simply didn’t push the buttons of the press. A life is a life, and while race shouldn’t matter, it is a sad fact that in today’s media it still counts.
Commission for Racial Equality chair Trevor Phillips talked about tackling the snowy peaks of industry. In the media, particularly the mainstream printed press, there are snowy lowlands with almost all-White newsrooms. Broadcast media are slightly better, but not by much.
The problem not necessarily with word-count in quality press, but with the tabloids. If the victim is a pretty white, preferably young, female the case will attract more attention – especially when a number of pictures are available.
The murder of Sally Anne Bowman was horrific. So too was the death of Rochelle Holness, killed in an inner-city London estate around the same time.
Whilst there is now a prosecution in the Rochelle case, the first two days of media reporting for each murder showed a definite bias towards Sally-Anne.
When you’ve got mostly all-White newsrooms they are not going to see things through the eyes of Britain’s Black communities.
We cannot blame police for facilitating media interest in particular crime cases - where there is a media appetite they will inevitably accommodate that.
All horrific murders deserve maximum coverage… its up to the media to show greater interest in Black victims, even if they are older men.
There are exceptions, of course. But while the cases of Damilola Taylor and Anthony Walker attracted attention, the media often portrayed them, especially Anthony Walker, looking more like a cute schoolchild rather than the strong, handsome young man he was becoming.
The media often appears to have problems empathising with young Black men growing into adulthood.
As a consequence most young Black men who are killed are ignored, with the assumption that any Black male between 17 and 30 killed in the inner city must be up to no good.
Yet the case of Soloman Martin, shot dead on New Years Eve a year ago, represented one of many young Black innocent victims.
The case of Robert Levy, 16, stabbed to death outside Hackney Town Hall in September 2004 – received very little coverage, in stark contrast there’s been acres of coverage dedicated to the equally awful murders of Margaret Muller, Amelie Delagrange, Marsha McDonnell, and Milly Dowler.
All these murders are equally awful. They all deserved equal coverage. The reporting was not equal because, as Sir Ian says, race, gender and age are factors. We agree that the media are institutionally racist.