How media reports can fuel hate crime

First of all, i would like to say my thoughts go out to the family and friends of Darlene Horton, the woman who lost her life and those who were injured in the horrific knife attack in Russell Square on Wednesday night.

BBC News reports:

A man has been arrested on suspicion of murder after a woman was killed and five injured in a knife attack in Russell Square, central London.

A 19-year-old man was arrested at 22:39 after a Taser was discharged by an officer. The Met said mental health was a “significant factor” in events.

Metropolitan Police Service say Mental Health played a significant part in this incident.  Nowhere do they say that it was terror related, yet the editors  at The Sun never fail to amaze us with the headline – “RUSSELL SQUARE BLOODBATH Woman in her 60s knifed to death and five injured in possible terror attack in central London as man, 19, is tasered”

The story should read – Man murders one and wounds others in Russell Square Knife attack.

I am all for free press when reported correctly, but after the vote for Brexit, the country needs to heal and come together, The Sun continue to spread hate and divisive headlines which injects more panic and fear into our society.

The Liberal Democrats need to tackle this and make a stand against this right wing media coverage, which some  people I know are starting to believe. I see them quoting stuff from the sun as though it is fact and it is deeply worrying.

This creates further hate and only exacerbates hate crime in the long run. When can the Sun be held accountable for these outrageous headlines they keep printing?

* Ross joined the Liberal Democrats in 2015 and was selected to be the Parliamentary Candidate for Bolsover in July 2016.

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  • Spot on Ross and thank you for this excellent piece.

  • Matt (Bristol) 5th Aug '16 - 5:08pm


    Very timely, for me.

    I have in my inbox an email from IPSO from this week explaining why they will not be proceeding with a complaint I made against the Mail / Metro for a racist / anti-Islamic ‘spin’ in reporting an otherwise zero-interest story (which a google search shows me has now gone viral on English Defence League websutes) which I felt was in breach for the papers’ own press code – as I am not personally involved in the story they would not proceed.

    If I as a white conservative Christian can spot blatant racist anti-Islamic bias, how much more cr*p that I don’t spot or see are our fellow citizens having to wade through?

    I was contemplating a piece for this site explaining the situation and asking if anyone is interested in setting up an SAO to scrutinise media reporting in light of the values of a civil democracy and advocate for a free and fair media that is transaparent in its ownership accountable to the public for its reporting methods.

    I have very little experience of this field, but am beginning to feel that the ‘post-facts’ reality needs to be challenged more directly by liberals, rather than sitting back and grumbling about unfairness.

    Anyone interested?

    Or is this something EMLD – for eg – already engages in, and can I join?

  • David Allen 5th Aug '16 - 5:44pm

    Alongside anti-Islamic bias, the tabloids promote a pro-crime bias. It is well known that “copy-cat” violence can be triggered by sensationalist reporting. The Sun should be challenged to take responsibility for their promotion of violent crime.

  • John Peters 5th Aug '16 - 5:53pm

    Is this significantly different to other reports issued at the same time? The Sun article is dated 4th August 2016, 6:47 am.

  • Lester Holloway 5th Aug '16 - 6:21pm

    As a former journalist, now in PR, I value the freedom of the free press. The public are nearly always contradictory about what kind of media they want. Polling always shows distaste for inflamatory reporting and authoritarian and illiberal instincts in dealing with it, yet behaviour shows the opposite; it sells. It always jars with me to hear or read someone say this headline should say that. But the press is all about opinions and stimulating arguments and emotions.

    I’ve long been a strong critic of racist, Islamophobic, sexist and homophobic reporting. I’m a supporter of projects to hold the mainstream media to account for irresponsible reporting, such as Media Diversified and Ligali, and a supporter of nuanced reform of press regulation. Yet despite my record in condemning hateful journalism, I’m often at odds with people on the same side as myself, because they too readily grasp for broad-brush and draconian reform that eats into fundamental freedoms of the media. I’m for surgical reform of aspects like defining where the barriers are, widening the scope for complaining, and escalating penalties (charge-sheet approach).

    However I don’t think we can isolate journalism from politics and general movements in mood which are often connected to the international ‘weather’. Nor can we lump all journalism together (as I’ve kind of done myself in this post!). I think we need a grown up debate not just on the limits of free speech but the areas around those boundaries, how we influence push-back, including social and alternative media, and – yes – also stand up for freedom of speech, fair comment (however unfair we may believe it to be), and also freedom to advance controversial arguments if it can be justified.

    I don’t think its helpful for individuals to act as a judge deciding what is or isn’t in the public interest or for the public good, but it is important to support protest against unacceptable reporting (including subtle racism), advocate for liberal change, and also campaign to promote diversity in the media which will help culture and awareness to deal with bad reporting at source!

  • Stevan Rose 5th Aug '16 - 10:37pm

    I don’t read any newspaper anymore. They all report news with an editorial bias and an eye on the circulation. Newspaper websites are so full of JavaScript my tablet can’t handle those either. As circulations fall generally the headlines get more outrageous. However what are the alternatives? Censorship? Some form of criminal code to jail lying journalists and proprietors, close them down? Change libel laws so you can sue as a libelled group – that would do it. But restrict a free press at your peril. Would we know about MPs expenses had it not been for journalists sailing very close to jail time. In Turkey those journalists would be serving Life.

    The Sun went too far with Hillsborough and is finished in Liverpool and that’s your answer really. Use social media to campaign for a boycott. Don’t buy them, challenge friends and family to stop buying them, hit them in the pocket.

  • Just bear in mind that Jews are still the biggest target of hate crimes by a large margin and sadly this is too often encouraged by the same illiberal liberals and neo-puritans that fret so much about islamophobia.

    Loooooong before the Brexit vote you may notice. But gee, who is responsible you may ask. Ah but then you already know the answer to that don’t you: The same types who attacked the kosher supermarket in Paris, Charlie Hebdo offices and all the other recent incidents. Let’s not give the biggest haters a free pass shall we?

  • I must say that I am more troubled by this illiberal call for the ending of press freedom than by a brash Sun headline which, at the time, was substantially correct. Nobody has to read a newspaper which they find distasteful so the press is publicly accountable through the market. If people hold views with which you disagree you should work to change their minds, not censor the papers they read.

  • I agree that trying to spin every violent incident into an act of terrorism is bad. However an American tourist was murdered and other people were attacked by for no apparent reason. Could this not itself actually be a hate crime ? Either way, it strikes me as a muddled way of raising the issue when there must be more applicable UK cases of violent attacks by people inspired by the Sun’s pernicious agenda that would better illustrate the problem.

  • Ross Shipman 6th Aug '16 - 9:30am

    Thanks for your comments folks!

    My aim here is to not limit freedom of speech, but more along the lines of how newspapers can be held accountable for what they print.

    I absolutely agree it is important for them to continue to print stories that are truthful, but The Sun and many of the other Murdoch newspapers have a knack at printings divisive headlines on a regular basis that is not substantiated and that is what worries me.

    If you look at the quotes from police officers it was said that they did not believe it was terrorist related, but would keep all lines of enquiry open. That to me, is not possible terror attack..

    So, here is me calling for more accountability, to make the newspapers think twice and do more due diligence on the stories. The current system of them doing corrections on page 512 in the smallest possible size does not cut it for me and is a mockery of the system.

  • I would be equally condemning of newspapers that fail to report on crimes because of political correctness.

    There are a whole tier of people out here who have had their lives wrecked by sexual exploitation and knife and gun crime – but we mustn’t mention those as it may reflect badly on certain sections of our society.

  • That’s a good point JamesG. There is a similar issue in France now, where even after the huge surge in Islamophobic attacks on Muslims there still aren’t as many as the attacks on Jews.

  • From Metropolitan Police website, August 4th 5:02am :-

    “Early indications suggest that mental health was a factor in this horrific attack. However we are keeping an open mind regarding the motive and terrorism remains one line of inquiry being explored.”

    From The Sun, 6:47am (i.e. 1 hour and 45 minuets later) :-

    “Woman in her 60s knifed to death and five injured in possible terror attack… Police confirmed they were not ruling out the incident being terror-related and said they believed mental health was a key factor.”

    Seems like a pretty accurate report of the police statement to me. The emphasis in the headline could have been better chosen, but that is always the case with tabloid stories.

  • This reminds me of the rush by many who hate The Sun, to claim Jo Cox’s murder proved all their pre existing assumptions. Perhaps everyone should take time to actually see what the facts are.

  • Agree Psi – different groups are happy to jump to whatever conclusion they best see fit. The police diagnosing that the attack was motivated by “mental illness” within 5 minutes, without having even searched his internet history, was equally absurd. As more facts are now emerging and the people that knew him are questioned, the story will inevitably change again.

  • David Evershed 6th Aug '16 - 4:20pm

    BREAKING: 2 Belgian police officers wounded in #machete attack, assailant shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ #Belgium

  • Don’t make a big deal out of it – no doubt it was a mentally ill man, known locally as “David S”.

  • Stevan Rose 7th Aug '16 - 4:46pm

    “Jews are still the biggest target of hate crimes by a large margin”

    Not according to that article you quote. Islamophobic crimes were more than double in number

    “it is important for them to continue to print stories that are truthful”

    Who decides what the truth is? You? A Government censor or judge? A civil servant? And where do you start and stop? The Sun said “possible” terror attack, which wasn’t untruthful, and where is your evidence that the headline caused any hate towards anything but terrorism, or any additional panic or fear over and above the fear of being stabbed in the street. Under a truth rule that headline passes. What about the sensationalist extreme weather warnings about mini ice age winters that panic the elderly, or that any food you can name will give you cancer or a heart attack. Or what about the reporting of all the ludicrous claims made by politicians at every election or referendum. Once you start down this line, saying a headline is untruthful when really it just says possible not probable or actual, saying it causes hate but it’s a leap to say who is the target other than terrorists, saying it instills panic and fear with no evidence to back that up, do you stop at crime headlines or all headlines covering all stories. Welcome to the Zimbabwe Press Complaints Bureau.

    The only way a Liberal can hold a newspaper to account based on conjecture and a suspicion as to intent but nothing to back it up, is to not buy that newspaper and encourage others to do likewise. And sue for personal defamation if personally attacked without cause.

  • Stevan Rose
    You could not have reached such a conclusion from that article which did nor compare like with like. But here are two of many that do – again prior to brexit voting.
    However the terrorist offences are of course not called hate crimes despite the fact that they patently are….which tips the scales somewhat further.

    Meanwhile here;
    is a good article discussing the hierarchy of left-wing pieties where islamophobia is seemingly higher up the scale than feminism (that is endemic to Islamic society). It is indeed a useful exercise to imagine the ‘liberal’ outcry if mass molestation of women were to be committed by white males.

    It is a shame if simply reporting about the greater problems in an honest manner is decried because it may provoke a reaction among the weaker-minded.

  • Lester Holloway 8th Aug '16 - 5:02pm

    JamesG, are you really intending to share a link from an American neo-conservative who has seemingly dedicated her writing to attempting to intellectually underpin hostility to immigrants and attacking the arguments of those who campaign for greater race equality (including an end to police brutality)? The particular link you share associates immigrants with sex attacks in a way that goes beyond balance in my view, and harbours a bitter undercurrent towards immigrants in general. None of which is particuarly liberal.

  • Katerina Porter 27th Aug '16 - 8:36pm

    What about Lord Leveson’s report? It was commissioned, a lot of time and effort went into it, Cameron originally said it would be implemented but of course it wasn’t. It made a lot of suggestions which were agreed to be good, And now it is virtually forgotten though Hacked Off, which consists of people who suffered hugely from the press, carries on trying to get it implemented.

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