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Race and reporting of the London Riots

It isn’t hard to spot where some of the media are heading in their reports in the immediate aftermath of the weekend rioting.  For them, race is the indelible factor, at least where the riots in Tottenham are concerned.

There is no escaping the fact that Mark Duggan, the man shot by the police on Thursday and whose death is seen as the trigger for the riots, was a black man.  Nor the fact that those involved in the ensuing mayhem were largely black.  The two appear to be linked, but where does that leave us?

If you’re an LBC presenter, it would appear that it leads you to try your damnedest to provoke a discussion that has as its starting point, the criminalization of the black community.  So too if you’re the Daily Telegraph in that you would make ceaseless attempts to shoe horn race into every aspect of your reporting of the riots, gleefully feeding the racist underbelly who thrive on division.

There is no justification for what happened. To ‘trash your own community’, a term widely use in reference to the riots, is utter madness.  It’s turning in on yourself, an act of self-annihalation almost, but to expect the young men who were testeroned-up by the adrenalin of confrontation with the police  – their sworn enemy – and excited by the thrill of destruction, to pause and weigh up the pros and cons of destroying the very community in which they live, is asking too much.

But it isn’t asking too much of the media reporting the riots, to exercise some caution in doing so.  Stirring up racist divisions is not an approach any self-respecting journalist ought to be taking.  Progress will not be achieved through stereotyping a whole community.

Black Britons have long suffered from the stereotype of being lazy, uneducated and criminally minded.  No amount of words can do justice to the pain and hurt that such stereotyping has caused.  That the message remains in the nuances and affected subtleties of some of those reporting the London riots, is beneath contempt.

Fine report the ethnic make-up of perpetrators and by all means analyse and conjecture on the how and why but please don’t presume that, if your analysis is posited as being a vivid illustration of the untrustworthiness of a whole community, that such thoughts would go unchallenged.  Without any context or attempt at understanding, it really is just lazy journalism.

Post script:

This is an interesting piece in the Guardian that asks the question: were the riots about race? Click here to find it. The answer…well, it’s complicated.

  • Alex Buckley

    Hi Sonia, Thanks for the exchange of emails.  Your blog has become part of a debate on another forum, as you have posted something that differs to my opinion.

    You have said that LBC promoted the issue of race as causal in the riots.

    However, my recollection is that they avoided the race issue.  Even going as far as some presenters declaring that race was not a factor, therefore they would not entertain the argument.

    I’m going to check the LBC podcasts on this.  However, would it be possible to know how you reached your conclusion?

    Thank You

    Alex

    • sonyathomas

      Hi Alex

      To answer your question, it was unscientific. Meaning that like you, I formed an opinion based on the broadcasts I’d heard at the time. I remember being in my car on the way to Wood Green the morning after the Tottenham riots and tuning in to LBC for the duration of my journey. I certainly didn’t hear any presenters make the declarations you refer to. If they did, I applaud it. Do you recall when you first heard them and the name of the presenters concerned? I wonder if it was at the very beginning or as the discussion ensued over a period of days? I’m by no means an avid listener of LBC so I don’t doubt that the tone of various discussions on the subject changed over time. I also don’t believe that LBC were alone by the way. I recall one NUJ led discussion where BBC London featured quite heavily in relation to discussions of race, criminality and the riots.

      I think what bothered me more at the time was that there was a willingness throughout parts of the media to make the link without knowing the facts. That’s why I participated in a recent research project which looked at the consequences and causes of the riots from the perspective of the people involved, specifically, the people who rioted.

      Tell me more about the forum. (You could email – it doesn’t have to be part of the comment on this thread.) Is it a discussion specifically about my post, or LBC, or the media reporting of the riots? As I’ve said previously, I’d really be interested in knowing more about your own views on it.

      Best wishes

      Sonya

    • Anonymous

      Hi AlexTo answer your question, it was unscientific. Meaning that like you, I formed an opinion based on the broadcasts I’d heard at the time. I remember being in my car on the way to Wood Green the morning after the Tottenham riots and tuning in to LBC for the duration of my journey. I certainly didn’t hear any presenters make the declarations you refer to. If they did, I applaud it. Do you recall when you first heard them and the name of the presenters concerned? I wonder if it was at the very beginning or as the discussion ensued over a period of days? I’m by no means an avid listener of LBC so I don’t doubt that the tone of various discussions on the subject changed over time. I also don’t believe that LBC were alone by the way. I recall one NUJ led discussion where BBC London featured quite heavily in relation to discussions of race, criminality and the riots.I think what bothered me more at the time was that there was a willingness throughout parts of the media to make the link without knowing the facts. That’s why I participated in a recent research project which looked at the consequences and causes of the riots from the perspective of the people involved, specifically, the people who rioted.Tell me more about the forum. (You could email – it doesn’t have to be part of the comment on this thread.) Is it a discussion specifically about my post, or LBC, or the media reporting of the riots? As I’ve said previously, I’d really be interested in knowing more about your own views on it.Best wishesSonya

      • Anonymous

        Ah, confusion solved.  We are talking about different time periods.   Will add more details in a while.  Thanks for clearing that up!

        • Anonymous

          The debate we were having on the other forum was based on this report:

          http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/8846043/Rioters-were-poorer-younger-and-less-educated-than-average.html

          As you can see there is now an official link between race as a factor pertaining to the riots.  

          To follow on from the LBC story, when the riots spread the race issue was dropped on the claim that race could not be involved.  

          While, I can see the sense in this and agree with it, I also believe in freedom of speech.  I’m therefore halfway on this issue.  What are your thoughts?

          • http://www.writehandmedia.co.uk Sonya Thomas

            One of the reasons I got involved with the Reading the Riots project was because I wanted answers and I wanted those answers to be evidence-based rather than pure conjecture. The results of the study will be known next month and I’m hopeful that it will shed some light on some of the assumptions made about the riots and those who rioted. It may also reveal some uncomfortable truths but the key word here is truth.

            The one thing in favour of The Telegraph piece is that it’s reporting fact in that the info is based on the MOJ figures of those with whom it has come into contact, i.e. arrested and now part of the judicial process. But it isn’t  complete. It’s part of a bigger picture.

            It’s also worth stating that the narrative given to pieces of information is important too. If we know as fact that a given percentage of the rioters were black, more so than were white, what are we to make of it? If someone chooses to interpret that evidence as meaning black people are more criminally minded than white, then we have problem. It isn’t that simple or that tidy. It also avoids some of the more awkward questions surrounding the riots which again I hope the study will address. A statement that ‘race is a factor’ tells us very little. Add context and a story begins to unfold.

          • Anonymous

            Its great to be able to talk to someone so involved in this project!!

            Can I ask what your methodology is?

          • Sonya

            Sorry for the late reply. You can find out more about the research using this link.

            http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/sep/05/reading-riots-study-guardian-lse

            I was one of a number of researchers who interviewed people involved in some way, as opposed to just being passive observers. We used semi-structured interviews with questions phrased very carefully so as not to lead in anyway. 

            This might be of interest.
            http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/nov/30/inquiry-into-uk-riots-flimsy

          • Sonya

            And thishttp://www.thedrum.co.uk/news/2011/08/16/bbc-forced-make-riots-coverage-apology-ndash-again