26 January 2006

Race and the press

Ian Blair said today that the way crime is reported in the press is racist. Specifically, the murder of a white lawyer recently got a lot more coverage than the murder of an Asian builders' merchant.

There is an arbitrariness about what gets heavy press coverage - Blair also brought up the Soham furore - and very likely race comes into it. The press deals in superficiality, and, at least superficially, the Tom ap Rhys Pryce murder has more "it could have been me" relevance to more of the papers' readerships than did that of Balbir Matharu.

This works the other way, of course: a murder by a white person is also superficially more newsworthy than one by a non-white.

Is this a bad thing? The superficiality of the media is regrettable, but probably inevitable. Blair was contrasting the treatment of the murders by the press with the treatment by his force - defending himself against similar charges of disproportionate attention. I think we can agree that the police should not be superficial, and particularly that their effort should not be influenced by something as superficial as race. I am reluctant to claim that all murders are equal, in terms of the police effort that should be devoted to them, regardless of the circumstances - I would claim that a random murderer who is likely to strike again is more urgent than a murderer who was settling a specific grudge, for instance - but equality is probably a good rule of thumb.

And if we want the police to be even-handed as regards irrelevances such as race, it would help if the press were too. On that basis, the press should be at least encouraged to take note of criticism such as Blair's. At the end of the day, though, they, unlike the police, are at the mercy of the lightest whims of their customers.

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