When media jump to dangerous conclusions in reporting acts of terrorism it can victimise the innocent and reinforce hatreds. This has been highlighted in coverage of the tragic events in Boston this week.
A twenty-year-old man watching the conclusion of the Boston Marathon had his body torn into by the force of the bomb, which killed three people and injured 176, many of them seriously.
But he was the only victim who, while in the hospital being treated for his wounds, had his apartment searched in “a startling show of force” according to neighbours who watched in amazement as police ransacked his apartment and took away some of personal belongings.
It was this action – as a result of racial profiling by the police – that provided the basis for a widely-criticised report in the tabloid New York Post which boldly and inaccuratelyclaimed that 12 people were killed in the explosions and, more alarmingly, that a "Saudi national who suffered shrapnel wounds" had been identified as "a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing."
The story, which has yet to be corrected, spread quickly through the usual information pipelines: within 48 hours the story had 48,000 Facebook likes and was tweeted more than 16,000 times.
The widely-publicised apology from Barack Obama for complimenting a leading United States justice official on her good looks has caused a stir about sexism in American media.
Speaking at a fund-raising event at which he talked about his friend Kamala Harris, the California Attorney General, Obama is reported to have said:
"You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you'd want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake. She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country …."
His final remark was greeted with good humour by the audience with no complaints from Ms Harris, a good friend of the Obamas. But the President apologised later when he was taken to task on Twitter feeds and by media commentators and leading feminists.
The announcement this week by the Associated Press, the world’s biggest news media organisation, that it will no longer use the term "illegal immigrant" is welcome, but long overdue. Some may wonder why it has taken so long for this leader of world journalism to recognise that being called “illegal” without trial or conviction is inaccurate and offensive.
The AP is the decisive authority on word use and editorial style at more than 1,000 mainstream daily newspapers in the United States, and it is used by editors at television, radio and electronic news media both in the US and around the world.
The decision to change its style book comes after a lengthy period of internal debate and external pressure. The agency’s use of the term was condemned last year by former White House adviser Charles Garcia, himself of Hispanic origin, who in an article for CNN noted with disdain how the AP Stylebook described the term “illegal immigrant” as “accurate and neutral.”
A police attack on a public meeting and the detention of a number of leading feminists and supporters of International Women’s Day in Moscow on March 8th has prompted strong protests from journalists and their union.
According to reports from Moscow demonstrators from the political party Yabloko and a number of feminist and women's organisations gathered to celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day in Russia at Novopushkinsky Park. Soon after the meeting opened, the police arrested two people for distributing a newspaper with articles on the history of feminism, on domestic violence and on the issue of rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people.
The arrest sparked angry protests and the arrest of another dozen people as police attempted to close down the meeting.
Their action was encouraged by some counter demonstrators including a well-known Orthodox Church activist Dmitry Tsorionov. This group threw rotten eggs at the speakers and organisers of the rally. Their actions appeared to be carried out with impunity while the police detained more peaceful protesters and, according to witnesses, physically attacked a number of girls.
The next day most of the detainees were released but many will face charges and the Russian Union of Journalists called a special meeting to protest over the incident.
Lego has ended a partnership with The Sun newspaper after online protests by anti-Page 3 campaigners who generated a wave of condemnation over the toymaker’s links with a paper that defiantly continues to publish nude pin-ups, despite growing unease that this tawdry feature of tabloid newspapers has definitely passed its sell-by date.
The Guardian reports that this decision by the Danish company, whose global brand is known to hundreds of millions of parents and children worldwide, is being seen as a victory by campaigners against press sexism.
In particular, for Steve Grout, who launched an online petition to protest over Lego’s involvement with The Sun when his two young sons aged seven and nine started asking him to buy the paper because Lego was offering free toys to readers.
"My kids started on at me, saying 'I wanna buy the Sun',” he told The Guardian “It sowed a seed in their mind that the Sun is linked to toys, but I don't want my kids to see a naked woman in the newspaper."
His petition launched on the activists’ web-site Change.org touched a nerve and attracted more than 12,000 signatures in less than two weeks.
Aspects of how women are marginalised in media – old and new – have been highlighted on both sides of the Atlantic.
Harriet Harman, the combative deputy leader of the Labour opposition party and a veteran campaigner for women’s rights, has hit out at age discrimination against women in British media.
As the shadow minister for culture she has put major news media on the spot with a written demand to seven broadcast chiefs to give full details of how many women of 50 and over are employed as newsreaders, presenters and reporters.
At the same time in the United States the Women’s Media Center has released its 2013 report on the Status of Women in the US Media which finds that online media, far from offering more opportunities for women to play a role in journalism, is behaving just as badly as legacy media. When it comes to the profile and visibility of women in media they still come a distant second with men dominating bylines and stories.
Both events reveal how a continuing failure to deliver anything close to equality of treatment for women in the news business remains a major challenge at home and abroad.
Bloodshed in Libya, civil war in Syria and a toxic mix of sectarianism and political deadlock in Tunisia and Egypt have taken the shine off the Arab Spring, particularly for many people in journalism and news media.
The pace of change has slowed dramatically since December 2011, when demonstrations, protests and unprecedented expression of people power in Tunisia first ignited demands for democratic reform across the Middle East and North Africa.
But there are still reasons to be cheerful. Journalists and media leaders including publishers, editors, and experts from a number of Maghreb countries met last month in Tunisia determined to inject fresh life into the movement for media reform.
They adopted a plan of action – the Hammamet Declaration – which aims to target hate speech, sectarianism and undue political pressure on media.
Among their proposals is the adoption of a code of ethics for journalism, which will be important to strengthen public credibility. They also aim to establish an observatory to monitor media performance and they plan to create a working professional network across the Maghreb to improve the economic, social and professional conditions in which journalists work.
Six years after the Danish cartoons crisis opened up a chasm of controversy and misunderstanding over different approaches to free speech between Christiane and Muslims, a team of researchers in Copenhagen have pointed the finger at media which they accuse of reinforcing prejudice and Islamaphobia. The research did not make big news in Denmark when it was published earlier this year – in fact, it was barely reported at all by the country’s media – but it is making headlines in the Muslim world.
The results of the research into the performance of four major national newspapers in reporting Muslim and Islamic affairs indicate that media are falling woefully short of the editorial standards required to provide balanced and inclusive coverage. Not surprisingly, say the researchers, Islam is perceived negatively by most Danes.
Despite the fact that the cartoons crisis provoked a polarising political debate about differences over free expression in the west and the Arab and Muslim world, the media culture that created the firestorm in the first place remains largely unchanged.
As the razzmatazz, glamour and kitsch of the Eurovision song contest begin to fade in Baku, political leaders in Azerbaijan are returning to what they do best – stirring up intolerance and hatred.
In the firing line are political opponents, media and rights groups who supported protests during Eurovision over the country’s poor human rights record.
Leading the backlash is the loud-mouthed Ali Hasanov, the head of the Ideology Department in the Administration of President Ilham Aliyev who in a controversial speech on May 31 called for an atmosphere of "public hatred" to be directed against dissident journalists and opposition media.
The most testing confrontation facing English football next season will be between racists on and off the pitch and the game’s administrators who say they are determined to eliminate abuse on the back of a season when racism dominated newspaper headlines.