If the media promotes racism, what can we do to fix it?10 January 2014
This week, minority ethnic groups and individuals have featured heavily in the news. Most prominently, it was ruled that Mark Duggan had been lawfully killed, leading to many news outlets publishing unbalanced descriptions of him as a “thug” who “lived by the gun”.
Alongside this Benefits Street where race relations mainly consisted of abusive chants towards Eastern European migrants, took over Channel 4. This followed their program on 2 January, Secrets of Pickpockets, Shoplifters and Scammers, which portrayed Eastern Europeans migrants and West Africans as determined criminals, desperate to scam hard-working Britons.
These negative portrayals of minority ethnic groups are assumed to reflect public opinion, but is this really the reality? And, are do the public view these discourses as responsible journalism?
It would appear not. Before the End Racism This Generation campaign launched, Runnymede commissioned an attitudinal survey on race in the UK. One of the questions that we asked was “Do you think that the way the media portrays minority ethnic groups, promotes racism?”
Four out of five respondents (78%) agreed that media coverage of ethnic minority Britons promotes racism.
This concern was not just expressed by respondents who were from minority ethnic backgrounds. Over two-thirds (76%) of White British respondents thought that the media’s representation of minority ethnic groups fuelled racism.
Quite unsurprisingly the groups who most strongly agreed with the statement were from Pakistani and Eastern European backgrounds, both of whom have been targeted by the media in Islamophobic and anti-migration narratives.
Almost all Pakistani (94 %) and for 89 % of Eastern Europeans thought that the media portrayals of BME groups promote racism.
The negative impact on race relations as a result of the promotion of negative stereotypes by the media is extremely worrying.
It is dangerous and demoralizing for the media to portray minority ethnic groups in a way that perpetuates racial inequality. End Racism This Generation calls on media organizations to make pledges to tackle this, by asking themselves a few simple questions.
1. Enduring misrepresentations of black and minority ethnic groups in the UK media could be a result of the ethnic make-up of the industry. A 2013 survey found that 94% of journalists are white, despite more than half of all journalists working in London and the south-east, one of the most diverse areas of the country. Does your organisation reflect the ethnic make-up of your area, and if not, how could it?
2. Why does race matter when describing a person or story? Unless a reason for mentioning race is explicitly explained, why is it being mentioned at all?
3. Are stories are pandering to, or maintaining a negative stereotype based on race?
4. If ethnicities mentioned were replaced by the words ‘white’ or ‘Jew, would it still have been published?
Runnymede’s Director Rob Berkeley, quoted in today’s Independent said: “Four out of five British people believe that the media’s portrayal of ethnic minorities promotes racism. This is true whether you’re Black, Asian or White. The vast majority of the British public questions the ability of the media to portray ethnic minorities in a fair and reasonable light.”
“Runnymede is particularly concerned about the challenge this poses for improving relations between people of different ethnic groups. Our media must do more to respond to the real views and concerns of readers rather than promote stereotypes about Black and Asian people or immigrants.”
Notes: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from Ethnic Focus an independent research organisation specialising in ethnic research. Total sample size was 750 adults. All respondents provided details of their ethnicity and religion. The demographic of the group are as follows: Indian 200, Pakistani 150, Black Caribbean 75, Black African 75, Eastern European 100, White British 150. The demographic by religion is as follows: Christian 217, Hindu 138, Sikh 54, Muslim 188, Other 18, None 135. The survey was carried out in person. Fieldwork was undertaken between July-August 2013.