ICE blogs

August 11, 2012

Failures in reporting August 2011 riots highlighted

Serious failings by the mainstream media in their coverage of the August 2011 riots are highlighted in a major new report. It argues that the ‘unbalanced’ and ‘unhelpful’ coverage began with the shooting of Mark Duggan, the 29-year-old black man, by police in Tottenham.

‘In first reports of Duggan’s death, police stated that he was involved in a shoot-out with them, a statement that was later proved not to be true yet was reported as fact by news media.’

According to the report, the single most important reason for the spread of the disorder was the perception, relayed by television as well as social media, that in some areas the police had lost control of the streets. Social and broadcast media then helped the riots to spread.

The report stems from the ‘Media and the Riots’ conference organised by the Citizen Journalism Educational Trust and The-Latest.Com (the UK’s first dedicated citizen journalism website) on 26 November 2011.

It comments: ‘Conference participants felt that the apparent motivation of young people to target and loot shops and brands such as JD Sports, Foot Locker, Currys, Comet and PC World during the riots was strongly influenced by print and broadcast media. However, they also felt that this issue could not be adequately looked at without examination of the way in which the creative media industry, through films, music and video games, often glorified a criminal, gang or gangster-related lifestyle that some disadvantaged young people, including black males, then aspired to achieve.’

Marc Wadsworth, journalist, editor of and lecturer at City University, told the conference that most journalists covering the riots had no connection with Tottenham and as such did not know where to find authoritative voices: ‘They just fell back on lazy journalism, which was to rely on what the police was feeding them, what politicians were telling them and therefore not being the unbiased reporters they should be.’

The report also suggests that the Reading the Riots study, led by the Guardian and the London School of Economics, in analysing 2.57m tweets on Twitter sent around the riots, was ‘a model of good practice in looking for evidence about the use of social media and involvement in the riots, rather than relying on assertions’.

It identifies five action areas through which different actors - young people, citizens in affected areas, activists, journalists, professional journalism bodies, citizen journalists, educators - might use ‘the media’ to challenge the stigmatising of young people and affected communities and promote previously marginalised voices.

- hold the media to account;
- engage with journalists;
- communicate with decision-makers;
- promote citizen journalism;
- ensure wider access to journalism.

In a forward to the report, Professor Roy Greenslade, media commentator on the Guardian, welcomes its encouragement of citizen journalism. He continues: ‘But “big media”, at least at the moment, continues to hold sway over the national conversation. If it wishes to enhance democracy then it must ask itself whether it has become too remote from the public by creating a media class, a class apart from its audience.’

- Media and the riots: A call for action, £15 (organisations and companies); £5 (individuals); £3.50 (unwaged). Details from

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