London Attack: Have Some UK Media Overreacted?

Published: 24 March 2017

Country: UK

London_attack_front_pagesThe day after the Westminster attack, a number of front pages of British newspapers were filled with words such as “terror”, “rampage”, “maniac”. The breaking news coverage on many radio and TV stations was constant. The so-called columnist Katie Hopkins was again given a platform in some British tabloids and on Fox TV to spread hate, racism, Islamophobia and all sorts of discriminative rhetoric. Some anti-Muslim blogs misused and misinterpreted a photograph of a girl in hijab on Westminster Bridge. Could some media do better than this?

“Journalists struggle with the accelerating pace of the news cycle and the complicated and diverse nature of terrorism itself,” reads the report Reporting Terror in a Networked World, by Charlie Becket for the Tow Centre at Columbia University in New York. “Especially in the context of breaking news,” it continues, “they have to adapt to the speed and complexity of information flows that are increasingly influenced by the authorities, the digital platforms, and even the terrorists themselves”. But have some of the media outlets rushed to characterise the London attack as a “terrorist attack”?

The question is also whether some journalists, reporting on the recent attack in London, reinforced prejudices and stereotypes. Professional media and reporters need to ask themselves how essential it is to mention the attacker’s religion, mental health or place of birth. What did the author of an article in The Times have in mind when he stigmatised and generalised the population of the whole city (Birmingham) as “a hotbed for Islamists?”

From its front page blaming Google for being “a terrorists’ friend” to describing the mayor of London as “son-of-a-bus-driver Sadiq”, the Daily Mail deserves to be shamed, not to be awarded. “And last week the Mail won Newspaper of the Year, in a year during which it has promulgated racist, anti-migrant bilge on its front page day after day to secure the referendum result. But it is hard not to agree with that Mail columnist: we are not united. We are more disunited than ever, and the Mail is heavily to blame,” writes Polly Toynbee for the Guardian.

In a wider perspective, another columnist in the Guardian, Simon Jenkins, warned the majority of the media for over-publicising and exaggerating “a random act by a lone player without access even to a gun.”

“Don’t fill pages of newspapers and hours of television and radio with words like fear, menace, horror, maniac, monster. Don’t let the mayor rush into print, screaming “don’t panic”. Don’t have the media trawl the world for pundits to speculate on “what Isis wants” and “how hard it is to protect ourselves from attack”. Don’t present London as a horror movie set. Don’t crave a home-grown Osama bin Laden. In other words, don’t pretend you are “carrying on as usual” when you are doing the precise opposite. When the prime minister stands up in parliament to announce, “We are not afraid,” the response is “why then is the entire government machine behaving as if it’s shit-scared?” – asks Simon Jenkins.