Why Media Should Not Publish Racist Manifestos

Publish: 3 July 2015

Countries: UK, USA

Charleston_ShootingThe answer seems to be obvious. According to Code of ethics and guidelines on reporting race by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and by the British NUJ for instance, “publications and media organisations should not originate material which encourages discrimination on the grounds of race or colour”. IFJ’s states that “the journalist shall be aware of the danger of discrimination being furthered by the media, and shall do the utmost to avoid facilitating such discrimination based on race, sex, language and religion amongst other things”.

Even without the reminder on media ethics, it seems obvious why media shouldn’t be publishing and broadcasting racist statements and spreading hatred against black people. Why then, some of the prominent media outlets in the UK and the US decided to republish what appears to be a racist manifesto of Dylann Roof, a man who shot dead 9 African-Americans in a church in Charleston, USA?

Charleston shooting attracted international media attention, but there were newspapers and broadcasters reporting extensively on Roof’s motivation, trying to uncover his ‘thinking’ and identify what might have driven him to commit the hate crime. This approach presented the perpetrator as the focal point of the incident, diverting the attention from the victims and their relatives. Instead of giving a stage to the family members of those who had been brutally assassinated, media found it more important to take a close look at the shooter, reporting on his passion for flags and interest for Japanese films.

While the Independent questioned the killer’s mental health, The Guardian decided to portray Roof as a youngster who had been corrupted by the internet: “Roof, the manifesto suggests, was then sucked deeper into a world of extremist online propaganda”. The Time presented a similar line of argument, quoting Roof’s relatives, in search of a reason why he might have committed the murder: “Charleston Shooting Suspect Was Drawn into ‘Internet Evil,’ Relatives Say”.

The Guardian de-politicized the incident by specifically mentioning that Roof had no links to racist networks as well as publishing statements that do not consider the incident to be ‘a political act’ or Roof to be ‘motivated by any personal grievances or any  particularly coherent political ideology’. Media complemented the pattern of de-politicizing Roof with individualizing reports, thereby making the white shooter seem humane and approachable.

The Mirror reported that the shooting was triggered by the fact that Roof’s girlfriend left him for an African-American man, which suggested that the shooter was driven to massacre 9 Black people due to ‘external forces’. This way, Mirror absolved Roof from responsibility for his actions and instead, shifted the focus on his ex-girlfriend and her new African-American boyfriend. Furthermore, the news outlet relativised the incident, reducing the murder by calling it “Dylann Roof ‘went over the edge’”.

A few weeks back, when media reported on Black protesters who stood up against police brutality, in some of the outlets there was a usual construct of African-Americans being  senselessly violent agitators. When it comes to a white racist shooter who killed 9 Black Americans, however, media seemed to report in the exact opposite way, seeking to present the white perpetrator as a human being and trying to understand his personal circumstances.  The term ‘terrorist’ was not applied by the media and, the Intercept Glenn Greenwald wrotes, “refusal to call Charleston shooting terrorism, again shows it is a meaningless propaganda term.”

“The term ‘terrorist’ got instantly applied by know-nothings for one reason: he was Muslim and had committed violence, and that, in the post-9/11 West, is more or less the only working definition of the term (in the rare cases when it is applied to non-Muslims these days, it’s typically applied to minorities engaged in acts that have no resemblance to what people usually think of when they hear the term),” writes Greenwald.

Many major media outlets  on both sides of the Athlantic such as New York Daily News, the Telegraph, The Guardian, and the Independent quoted key passages from Roof’s racist publication and published images of the entire original manifesto.

This unacceptable way of reporting gave space to the reproduction of racist discourses, subjecting BME (Black Minority Ethnic) readers to violent racial slurs. By this way, media outlets, in fact, gave Roof a perfect stage to spread his racist ideology through hate speech and reflected complete lack of sensitivity and responsibility concerning racism.