Challenging media double standard – Resetting the agenda

Challenging media double standard – Resetting the agenda

Fortnightly Bulletin

Written by: IRR News Team

7 – 21 November 2023

The role of an objective press should be to present the facts and inform the public about what is happening in the world. But the mainstream media, wanting to set the 24-hour news agenda and shape public opinion, have long since jettisoned such an approach. Over the last few weeks, however, we have seen welcome signs that the mainstream media may have lost its knack for shaping public opinion. Daily mobilisations in support of a permanent ceasefire in Gaza in towns and cities across the country have posed a direct challenge to the media’s double standards in reporting from Israel and the Occupied Territories. These double standards are visible in the offensive presentation of Palestinian lives as less worthy of saving than others, the inflammatory use of language that treats Palestinians en masse as guilty, coupled with insensitive or downright hostile interviewing of British Palestinians who have lost family members in the conflict and an uncritical acceptance of all information coming from the Israeli authorities, which is presented as fact before verification.  

 It is not just the media’s double standards on Israel/ Palestine that have been challenged this week; the right-wing media’s anti-immigration agenda is now threatened too, by the Supreme Court’s ruling that the government’s Rwanda plan is unlawful, and the sacking of the right-wing media’s darling, Suella Braverman. 

 Naturally, none of this has caused the media to change its tune, either in terms of reporting on the carnage in Palestine or a miraculous conversion to a human rights-based approach to asylum seekers. On the contrary, if the media cannot shape public opinion, the media will reject public opinion! And that’s precisely what it has been doing these last weeks, denigrating those who call for a ceasefire as at best, naive and ill-informed, and at worst dangerous, guilty by association with – or rather by non-active disassociation from – Hamas. 

 In the third and final instalment of our special calendar on anti-Palestinian racism – put together at a time of a war in the Middle East which has had an unprecedented impact on state policy and policing practices in the UK – we have gathered numerous case studies that speak to our concern that a McCarthyite witch hunt is being conducted by the media against Palestinian, Jewish anti-Zionist and other organisations, artists, academics and cultural figures and students who support the permanent ceasefire. A careful reading of these cases shows a refusal to allow any engagement with the history of Palestinian dispossession, occupation and subjugation, or with the notion that those who live under occupation have the right to self-determination and resistance (a hostility only present when the occupying power is a western ally, not applied to Ukrainians living under Russian occupation). This, despite the recognition of the right to self-determination of all peoples since the founding of the UN in 1945; the explicit recognition of the right to resist occupation or subjugation in numerous UN General Assembly resolutions, and UN Security Council resolutions from 1967 onwards calling for the withdrawal of Israeli’s armed forces from Occupied Territories. 

Coincidentally, our regular calendar on racism and resistance, covering non-Palestinian linked stories of racism and resistance over the last two weeks, shows that much of the same right-wing press that opposes a ceasefire in Gaza warmly embraces the human rights-denying approach of Suella Braverman. The sacked home secretary, now confined to the back benches, will be able to rely on them in future to provide platform and megaphone as she rails against the ‘migrant invasion’, speaks up for the ‘silent majority’ against supreme court judges (‘enemies of the people’), and defends the ‘British way of life’ from the ‘Left-wing blob’. For when it comes to her failed Rwanda plan, Braverman has the same gleeful disrespect for international law and conventions as the Israeli Defence Force, as evidenced by a Telegraph article in which she argued that the ‘government should disregard human rights duties and laws in their “entirety”’.  

 Over the last six weeks, the IRR has attempted to lay bare the parameters of anti-Palestinian state racism – documenting changes to the visa regime and new counter-extremism proposals, including threats to prosecute previously protected speech. In future, we will incorporate incidents of anti-Palestinian state racism into our regular calendar, at the same time as signposting our readers to the countless organisations doing this heavy lifting on the ground, at a time of unprecedented upsurge in internationalist anti-racism across the globe. Particularly important is the work of the European Legal Support Centre, whose help to a pro-Palestinian activist facing legal action over the ‘river to the sea’ slogan, which lies at the heart of the Palestinian yearning for liberation, led to a notable victory in the Dutch courts; the support for academics and cultural workers who have been censored and/or sacked provided by BRICUP, the BRISMES Committee on Academic Freedom and the publisher Verso, and the ‘know your rights’ based approach of Netpol, currently gathering data and testimonies on the police response to the surge in pro-Palestinian solidarity around Britain; and the support for young people displayed by No More Exclusions. We share No More Exclusions’ concern that children and young people, particularly those from a Muslim and BME background, are being punished and criminalised for being on the right side of history, for speaking out against a genocidal military campaign which may not be accurately represented in the mainstream media but unfolds in front of their eyes on the social media platforms and alternative news sites that they access. 

 Concerns that black children, particularly children in care and children excluded from school, are being stigmatised as a ‘criminal problem’ (this time in terms of the policing of drugs) also lie at the heart of a new study published this week in the IRR’s journal Race & Class, and which is available for free download. In ‘County lines: racism, safeguarding and statecraft in Britain’, scholars Patrick Williams, Lauren Wroe and Insa Koch take apart the government and police’s approach to ‘county lines’, the crime label now attached to an export model of drug distribution based on ‘forced gang related activity’ and ‘criminal exploitation of young people’. The policing strategy towards ‘County Lines’ stigmatises Black youngsters in a similar way to the Metropolitan police’s discredited gang violence matrix database, which was found to be discriminatory, the authors conclude. 

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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