Newspaper coverage of race – some observations
1] A study of the Yorkshire Post from November 7th to 12th 2011.
Defining itself as ‘Yorkshire’s National Newspaper’ the Yorkshire Post has a daily circulation total of just under 40,000 in a region [Yorkshire and Humberside] of close to five million. [4,964,833] Harrogate, with daily sales of 1569, is the town that buys the most copies, although Pateley Bridge Rural Area with sales of 270 has the highest household penetration of sales at 11.24%.
Owned by Johnston Press the paper was first published in July 1866 when it declared itself firmly committed to ‘Conservative principles’ and up to the 1960s its owners used to be known as Yorkshire Conservative Newspapers Limited. In the recent past the paper was stridently opposed to the ban on foxhunting.
7.3% of the population of Yorkshire is classified as ethnic minorities, with the majority living in West Yorkshire [including close to 1 in 5 of the population of Leeds, home to the offices of the Yorkshire Post] and to a lesser extent South Yorkshire. Approximately 10.7% of the UK’s population is from ethnic minority backgrounds.
In addition to the ongoing economic [and political] crisis across the world, and specifically in the euro-zone, the Yorkshire Post had a large number of articles on events surrounding Armistice Day on November 11th. [*]
There were also a number of articles about the [possible] discovery of Christopher Alder’s body in a Hull mortuary ten years after the former black paratrooper’s funeral.
Alder died after choking to death in the local police station in April 1998. This led to an unsuccessful prosecution against five police officers for manslaughter and misconduct. They had been caught on CCTV laughing and joking as Alder died within feet of them, but were cleared of disciplinary charges in 2003 even though the Independent Police Complaints Commission [IPCC] later found the conduct of four of them amounting to “unwitting racism” and a “most serious neglect of duty.”
Now it appeared the body returned to his family for burial might have been that of a 77 old black woman Grace Kamara, with Christopher’s body being discovered when Grace’s body was finally due to be released for burial more than a decade after she had died.
Considering the background to the case, and knowing how many black people have died in police custody without any officer doing time, then I think a journalist covering this story might just consider that this isn’t any ordinary ‘mistake’, that just perhaps there might be some racial element to this whole affair? That someone is taking ‘revenge’ on the family and friends for the long fight they put up for Justice and a successful prosecution? Well if anyone on the Yorkshire Post did consider such a possibility it didn’t make it into the paper as no probing questions appear to have been asked of anyone in authority. [If they were then the answers haven’t made it into the paper]
The coverage of the discovery of Christopher Alder’s body is at odds with much of the reporting in the rest of the Yorkshire Post where there is a noticeable absence of black and Asian people, certainly locally. You certainly wouldn’t be able to guess that 7% of the region is black and ethnic minority or 10% of the UK’s population is.
But where they are covered then these are the issues that were raised: -
1] A trial in which it is alleged that sham marriages were being arranged in which Slovakian and Pakistani’s are deeply implicated. Reports on this appeared on three days.
2] Two reports in which the word Muslim appears in the headlines – ‘Seven killed as Muslim festival hit by suicide bombers’ and ‘Muslim sect attacks kill more than 100.’ Muslims it appears are either being killed or killing others if this is typical of the YP’s coverage of a very large number of people, both locally and [inter] nationally.
3] Immigration – this was the week in which Home Secretary Theresa May was alleged to have ‘loosened’ border controls and quite naturally many papers, including YP, covered the affair. The paper chose to use it as the background to one of its Daily News Poll asking Is the UK Border Agency fit for purpose? whilst also warning the Government that it ‘needs to be far most robust’ in its leader columns. In its letter columns there were 2 letters during the week, one of which was headlined ‘immigration is increasing’ and there were three small articles that taken together would suggest Britain is in danger.
[a] A ‘border officer gave false visas to non-EU residents’ and
[b] ‘Forced marriages - spouses under 21 given right to enter UK’
[c] Most English think country ‘crowded’ indicating ¾’s of Britons are concerned about population projections suggesting the UK will reach 70 million within 16 years. [A figure the UK would have reached back in the 1980s if not for the fact that until the last few years it has been a net exporter of people for over 150 years]
In terms of positive coverage of events where black people were involved there were just two/three during the week.
The first was a picture of Prince Charles meeting Archbishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa.
Second was the accompanying picture and quote by Prudential Chief Executive Tidjane Thiam declaring ‘we will do better than our rivals, predicts Prudential.’
In addition there was a lengthy piece written by Nick Ahad on Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. Ahad’s photograph accompanies the article and it would appear from reading the rest of the paper that this is the only article written in six days by a writer/journalist from an obvious ethnic minority background.
[*] And whilst this piece isn’t about war its worth noting that none of the YP’s articles offered any suggestion that those who died did so – especially in the First World War – for very little or that those currently sacrificing themselves on the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan are doing so for oil and to further Britain’s imperialist ambitions. War it would seem is good.