Racial bias in reporting crime

Racial bias in reporting crime


Written by: Kevin Smith

A new report from the Runnymede Trust has found that the print media’s reporting of violent crime exacerbates racist tension.

‘A Tale of Two Englands – ‘Race’ and Violent Crime in the Press’ by Kjartan Páll Sveinsson analyses newspaper articles over a two month period in 2007 and shows that the way in which crimes are reported varies according to whether the perpetrators and the victims are Black or White. The author argues that this approach serves to influence public opinion and policy, and contribute to the reinforcement of racist stereotypes.

The report also shows that:

  • Gang, gun and knife violence is regularly identified as ‘cultural’ and then attached to particular ethnic groups. The effect is that entire ‘communities’ are criminalised on the basis of their ‘cultures’.
  • While it may be true that certain groups are responsible for a disproportionate number of certain types of crimes, it does not logically follow that most members of those groups are involved in offending behaviour. However, this illogical leap is often made.
  • Anecdotal evidence is too often treated as conclusive proof. For example, an inconclusive and brief Metropolitan Police report on the London gang profile was employed as evidence that the majority of young refugees are committing violence on the streets of Britain.

Michelynn Laflèche, director of the Runnymede Trust, commented that, ‘The press is in a key position to provide information about people, places and events of which individuals and groups may have little first-hand experience … Therefore, it is alarming to think that while the language used in the press may have changed in the last 30 years, many assumptions linking minority ethnic groups to violent crime remain intact.’

Related links

The report can be downloaded from the Runnymede Trust here.

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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