FAIR MEDIA Black deaths like Kester and Trayvon prompt Media justice challenge

By Thomas L Blair

Black journalists on both sides of the Atlantic have joined the debate on media negative treatment of unexplained violent murders: that of Kester David in north London and Trayvon Martin in Florida. They highlight two factors influencing remedial action: ending the white’s only media culture and changing the way newsrooms view Blacks as problem communities.

In Britain, Alex Pascall has raised the alarm about the unexplained murder of Kester David. His charred remains were discovered in July 2010 under a disused railway arch, reported the Sunday Times.

Pascall, who actively supports David’s mother Winifred Griffiths in this latest race case, is a veteran journalist. His BBC radio Black Londoners broadcasts were a focal point for Black British art and culture sport and politics.

Similarly, In the US, Gary Younge’s engagement is prompted by the murder of Martin, “the black 17-year-old carrying a packet of Skittles and a can of iced tea shot dead in Florida by a gun-carrying vigilante”, yet to be tried by law. The Guardian’s Black journalist targets the lack of media exposure and public pressure to prosecute the killer. Younge is a seasoned feature writer and columnist for the Guardian based in the US.

In the UK, this can’t see, won’t see, don’t care syndrome is linked to a whites only media culture. It is “both systemic and systematic”, with strong elements of inequality based on race or institutional racism.

Promoting Fair Practices in Britain’s newsrooms

When media newsrooms consistently refuse to hire Black journalists and end misrepresentation of Black communities they are failing in their civic responsibility, and people have the right to complain and seek remedial action. Why?
The pattern is persistent. Black and Asian faces are rare among Britain’s “news breed”, the journalists who gather and process the nation’s news. Twelve to 20 Black journalists were employed during the mid-1990s in national newspapers, out of a workforce of 3000, said Dr. Beulah Ainsley, author of Black Journalists, White Media, the only academic study of the topic.

Statistics for 2012 show that “Black and ethnic minorities are still largely absent from the opinion pages, senior executive roles and staff jobs in the media,” according to pollsters for the New Statesman Minority Report “Are the media racist?” The liberal-left papers did better than their centre-right counterparts did but not by much, the New Statesman discovered.

The pattern infects the key areas of the newsrooms. Researchers found that four out of 48 columnists in the Guardian/Observer were non-white. For the Independent and Independent on Sunday it was one out of 34 columnists. All others had no Black journalists of any consequence on their staff. This is a “damning indictment” of the press in a diverse urban society. Black and ethnic minorities are absent from the “columnists who occupy, specifically, the prime real estate that is a newspaper’s “comment and opinion” pages”. See http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2012/01/white-pages-press-ethnic

Moreover, the evidence indicates the danger of mono-racial monopoly of Britain’s newsrooms. There has been no respite in the misrepresentation of Black communities that fuel race tensions. Newsrooms especially the popular tabloids have slammed every race related “crisis report”. These include the Scarman report 26 November 1981, Macpherson inquiry 25 February 1999 and Parekh report 2000. Other corroborative studies by race watchdog agencies such as the Commission for Racial Equality didn’t even merit coverage.

Broadly, Britain’s media – from the boardrooms to the newsrooms — contested every race-centred social policy interventions. They ignored advocates for the benefits of race equality policy-making.

On this evidence, we now realise that there must be concerted effort for change in the news workforce, attitude and reporting style. FAIR MEDIA, a forthcoming e-book published by Editions Blair, sets out how to ensure the nation’s newsrooms can do things differently.

British Blacks Challenge The Nation’s Newsrooms




Strategically, the Black commentators have alerted us to the dangerous “shrug your shoulders” news policies that have political and moral implications.

Evidence shows the moribund Press Complaints Commission lacks the independence necessary to do its job properly. It is time to revitalize the body. An aggressive commission can target white monopoly on media jobs and provide a voice of justice.

Significantly, the Leveson inquiry into scandal-ridden press relations with the public, police and politicians, has said nothing about unfair media practices against Black journalists and communities. A revived inquiry should investigate press wrong doings that have a disproportionate effect on national minorities.

Indeed, government can take action on errant media and uphold its obligations under international human rights laws to protect Blacks and other historically discriminated groups.

Hence the call for concerted political effort for an alternative inquiry based on a national FAIR MEDIA Social Justice Challenge. This will target what many regard as widespread and systemic discriminatory practices in hiring and reporting on Black communities.

By seriously commenting on unexplained Black deaths, Black journalists have kick-started a wider debate. They agree with Black communities that the “colour of the news” must change. The benefit will be a new more authentic, high quality resource of news production for 21st century journalists – and the best standard of MEDIA DEMOCRACY FOR ALL.

Thomas L Blair, Chronicleworld.org, Editions Blair, ©2012

Source on Alex Pascall, Kester David and Winifred Griffith: David Leppard, Sunday Times April 8th 2012)
Source on Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman: Gary Younge, Mamie Till’s warning still holds true in a racist world, Guardian, Monday 9 April 2012
Newsroom sites broadly include newspapers, radio stations, TV and satellite channels as well as audio and video content that offer opportunities to join the national and global debate. It also refers to agencies supplying content to news websites, mobile phones and other wireless handheld devices. However, populist media sites that incite racial hatred and discrimination are excluded.
The New Statesman Minority Report “Are the media racist?” can be found at http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2012/01/white-pages-press-ethnic
The current Lord Justice Leveson inquiry examines the relationship of the press with the public, police and politicians, under the Inquiries Act 2005, with powers to summon witnesses.
FAIR MEDIA — British Blacks Challenge The Nation’s Newsrooms, a forthcoming an e-book, is available in pdf format upon request for press and publicity purposes. Contact Prof Thomas L Blair at: tb@thechronicle.demon.co.uk.

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