The trial of bias – is freedom of speech damaging society?

20 Aug

Since the events of 9/11 we have seen the world of newspaper journalism alter dramatically. Not only have the readership figures seen a reduction but the writing has more often than not become biased, steering more toward the incitement of war and conflict rather than the encouragement of peace.

Articles and reports from British newspapers immediately following the terrorist attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon in New York and Washington launched their own speculative investigations into Al-Quaeda and how events unfolded. A public assault began against Islamic extremism and no thanks to the ignorant bias of such reports this unfortunately included Islamic non-extremists also. No investigation sought to explain why these men chose to do what they did other than the simple explanations given by all media platforms of martyrdom and terrorism. As the months progressed I saw friends of Indian origin, notably of Sikh or Hindu faith, Sri-Lankan acquaintances who were of Buddhist or Christian faith and even Pakistani and Arab friends of Islamic faith go into hiding due to the ignorant nature of such biased reporting.  A quick trip into town for them became an anxious practice of looking over their shoulders and walking with their heads down. Carrying a big gym bag on any type of public transport often led to people moving away from them or shifting uncomfortably in their seats and I don’t think I even have to mention what holidaying abroad led to?

 The national media is responsible for the bestowing of current social and political events of the world so it is vital that we, the readers receive the facts and possibly, if necessary, the opinions representing both sides of the argument. A fair and democratic society such as the one we ‘apparently’ live in would not encourage the above, however can this be said to be the case?

When a society is drunk with rage after a murder, a terrorist attack or an act of paedophilia, can we say that we have a media which persuades a sober outcome or provokes this drunken fury?

Naturally, all reporters and contributors are human, holding their own instinctive views towards what it is that they are covering or writing about. You only have to look through this blog to see this; however, I do always try to represent another side to provoke thought and possibly an internal debate. To me in a world where the media has become responsible for condemning a suspect before he has even stood trial, this is something our media should now be encouraging. It is not enough to just question the other side, but to perhaps see things from the other side.

 I do not absolve any wrongdoings by suggesting this; I simply suggest that ignorance is not bliss. 

In 2010, Joanna Yeates, a 25 year old landscape architect went missing as was found murdered in Bristol. Although Vincent Tabak, a Dutch engineer was eventually arrested, charged and convicted for her murder in late 2011, the police’s initial suspicions that Christopher Jefferies her landlord was somehow responsible sparked a media attack upon the landlord. This ‘witch hunt’ went on for weeks and could have severely prejudiced this case. After his release, Jefferies, then went into hiding and drastically altered his appearance even though the killer had been caught. The media had brandished him a murderer to millions and at no point were attempts made after Tabak’s arrest to disclose Jefferies innocence on a mass platform just as they did his suspected guilt. Of course, thanks to the Leveson inquiry Jefferies has now been awarded damages after bringing claims against eight British newspapers, though, however much compensation awarded, an apology was not given.

This year, nine Asian men were convicted of grooming and sexually abusing white girls in Rochdale and Oldham exploiting young girls as young as 13 years old. In the months leading up to the trial however, the focus was not upon the sickening offences themselves but upon the profiles of these nine men who were not just nine men anymore; they were nine ASIAN men. Reports from varying newspapers explained how they were all from Pakistan, except one from Afghanistan. No hint was made as to whether they were British nationals and if so why then were they not just men from Oldham or Rochdale?

After visiting a public forum concerning health and fitness around the time of these reports I was shocked to see a post entirely dedicated to this case. What struck me as odd was that the post was simply an opportunity for members of the forum to launch a public attack on Muslims because supposedly all Asian’s are Muslims. Once again the focus was not upon the crimes of these men but upon the origin of them and possible punishments simply because they were ‘Muslim.’ A couple of attempts by myself to suggest ignorance on their parts were dismissed as ‘bullshit’ and as a consequence I was then labelled as a Muslim myself either that or ‘some king of Satan worshipper.’ I was disgusted. Even after reporting posts to the moderator I was shocked to see that only a verbal attempt to distil the situation by the moderator led to an increase in bias and no further attempt was made by them to control the posts. One newspaper alone was mentioned throughout the entire post by forum members and not being a keen reader of that paper, I sought out to read the reports given on these cases and was shocked to learn just how brutal some of the reports were on these men before they had even be convicted. I was surprised that Asian and Arab men were not once again hiding in their homes for fear of repercussions.

Of course, these men have now been convicted, and rightly so as no person should be free to exert such sickening control over such vulnerable children. However, at no point should it have come down to race. Especially in consideration of the fact that an appeal could now be brought in light of the racial hatred incited which could have prejudiced the case. 

 It’s distressing to think that some of the views represented in such news reports personify that of the BNP who’s leader, Nick Griffin gave a video interview concerning this case stating that ‘The mass street grooming of young girls from the English community is only being carried out by Muslims.’ It’s beginning to look as though that’s the way certain British newspapers would like us to think.

The truth is that statistics on the whole give lie to such claims as Greater Manchester Police in whose area the offences took place declared that 95% of men on the sex offenders register are in fact white, 5% are Asian.

Why then is the BBC so keen to air their current episodes of Silent Witness which portray a similar situation to the above grooming case? If in June these episodes were pulled due to similarities in the Rochdale sex grooming case why then as racial prejudices slowly start to simmer has the BBC (a public service broadcaster) now chosen to reignite such prejudice? Having chosen to watch the programme last night I was disturbed at just how uncomfortable I felt. It looked as though the BBC chose rather poignantly to focus upon the horrors of abuse a little too pointedly as though they had re-edited the original to conceal the main bias within the episode. It was chilling, for more reasons than one.

What astounded me personally was that such an episode got made in the first place. Any pitch to the commissioners at the BBC surely would have been incredibly predisposed and partial to one particular ethnic group. As a public service broadcaster what has happened to the positive representation of the multi modal pan Asian and a peace to those of nebulous gender and ethnicity? Granted realism is key in such drama’s and we all know this is a topical issue but why was there no attempt made to have a group of men of differing ethnicities, or after witnessing such disturbing scenes why were no attempts made to not air it at all?

It is now time that broadcasters, press and journalists begin to consider the effects of such coverage in their receipt. After-all;

  • It is more likely that such cases shall be suppressed in the future due to a concern that it shall inflame racial tensions once again,
  • It is also more likely that court trials shall be hampered and fresh appeals launched by the defendants due to racial prejudice feeding the prosecution;
  •  And it is also more likely that soon we shall have publications and broadcasters facilitating to the needs and opinions of the BNP and the EDL?

Freedom of speech is a gift that we are all granted with in this country, a gift that many do not have. Use it well.

Source(s):BBC, The Times, The Daily Mail, ‘Unnamed forum’, Greater Manchester Police

Photograph(s):BBC, Google Images, The Sun, The Daily Mail.

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