Monday, February 13, 2006
ATTACK THE MESSAGE NOT THE MESSENGER
The recent views by Sir Ian Blair on racial stereotyping in sections of the British media are clearly justified and factual. On the basis of analysis, in both the tabloids and broadsheets, there is a consistent pattern of under-reporting the successes of African and Caribbean people in commerce, industry and civic affairs.
Stories that embody Black achievement are largely ignored by editors under the pretext that such stories are not in the public interest or that readers are not interested in Black people’s success.
Another case in point is that although Baroness or Lady Valerie Amos is Leader in the House of Lords, very little is reported on her brilliant work as a head of the country’s legislature. Why? Because she is a Caribbean woman who has succeeded on merit, contrary to popular opinion that Black people are innately, underachievers and underperformers.
However, in contrast to the negative stereotyping, the media is terribly obsessed with gang feuds, drug trafficking, killings and anti-social behaviour in deprived and excluded inner-city communities. The society is subjected to a regular diet of these incidents and in some instances, facts are distorted beyond compare. Little wonder that independent think-tanks have been challenging crime statistics published by the authorities - allegations of `fiddling' with figures to make them look politically plausible are both a travesty and an inherent flaw in the `proud' criminal justice system.
As a public institution, the media is also culpable especially when editors, in their defence of free speech or public service journalism, argue the indefensible that reporting negative news sells newspapers and without them, readers would not support the media trade. Such a shallow retort does not make good commercial sense or sound moral judgment in a multicultural society where the sensitivities and sensibilities of ethnic communities should be respected irrespective of the conventional rule of `fair comment' that is often biased in favour of the victim rather than the perpetrator.
Each day columns inches are dominated by subjective, persuasive and passionate views on the much vaunted democratic values that Britain should export to other countries, yet sections of the press conduct unwittingly, clandestine campaigns to silence the enormous contribution of Black people in the country. To the average lay reader and uninformed mainstream institutions, by rendering Black achievers invisible, the media is silently propagating prejudice and racial insecurities, giving way to the age-old imperial tradition of ‘Divide and Rule'.
The reputable commentator and social policy analyst, Asian-bornYasmin-Alibhai Brown, of the Independent and the former Editor of the Sun newspaper, who appeared on the BBC2 Newsnight programme, January 27 last, agreed that the media had a moral and ethical obligation to publish good and bad stories since it was in the public interest to know the facts. The facts may not always be the truth but they offer an opportunity for the press or any other media institution to demonstrate their credentials in the best light, and more particularly, in the eyes of a suspicious and increasingly enlightened and technologically sophisticated media audience.
Both journalists echoed the importance of ensuring that the traditional ‘fairness doctrine', an essential principle in the media, prevail at all times. Principally, the functions of the media are to inform, educate and entertain, not deform, antagonise and exasperate. When a news agency unwittingly or unconsciously misrepresents the facts, distorts information and ignore vital data, it creates a cardinal sin in newsporting called `the propagation of faslehood' or the process of disinformation/misinformation. While these are readily accepted in today's media frenzied world as control techniques regarding what people read or believe, there are, over a long-term period, a destructive ploy that could well backfire in cases where reliable and accurate information is presented by an alternative, but authoritative source.
Negative reporting is a job for `professionals' who thrive on unethical practices and ostracise others who have an aversion to posturing, and that is precisely why Sir Ian’s comments on racial steretoyping should not be dismissed as ‘tittle-tattle'‚ or rubbished, but instead be carefully analysed since there is much wisdom in his expert observations.
By implication, the media should carry out out its own introspection, since the findings may prove that, as a democratic institution, it routinely contradicts its own expectations of liberal values founded on the tolerance of Britishness and at best, the prudence of Englishness. (This article first appeared as a letter to the Editor in The Voice newspaper, Monday, 13 February 2006)