Media bias: How the media legitimises far-right terror
Categories: Latest News
Friday March 29 2019
The tragic events that occurred at a Christchurch mosque on Friday 15th March was an atrocious attack by a far-right terrorist. Whilst there has been an outpouring of grief and unity across different faiths and backgrounds in the community, the media has minimised the threat of far-right violence, instead opting to humanise and legitimise far-right terror, or minimise coverage of it. In contrast, religious terrorism is grossly depicted as representative of all Muslims and reinforces Islamophobic tropes that increase the likelihood of religiously motivated hate crime, indeed Home Office figures for 2017/18 show that Muslims are far more likely to be the victims of such religious hate crimes than any other religious group. Any attack on civilian life is wrong and should be reported in a responsible and sensitive manner. Sadly all too often such reporting has been biased and sensationalist, leading to the normalisation’ of far-right terror.
A primary strategy of media outlets is to glamourise key figures within the far-right movement. For example, Tommy Robinson, ex-leader of the EDL was invited to speak on Sky News and the BBC despite his numerous convictions, history of hooliganism and explicit hatred of Muslims. Social media platforms also bear responsibility for enabling the distribution of material that constructs him as a defender of “free speech” and the nation. Far right groups are frequently portrayed as representative of the white working class, and the party of the “left behind” or “voiceless. ” this conveniently constructs the movement as an abstract yet all-encompassing group that can relate to anyone who feels disenfranchised and enables the far-right to gain greater momentum and legitimacy.
Another misrepresentation from the media is the evidence of inconsistency when applying the no platforming policy as religious terrorism are banned from speaking whereas well known far-right groups such as Generation Identity, a racist group advocating racial segregation are offered a feature on reputable stations such as BBC Newsnight to give their perspective of the New Zealand massacre. Not only was this an incredibly tone-deaf feature out of respect to the 50 lives but it further legitimises their xenophobic views. The BBC have defended their position stating that inviting different groups is necessary for “balance” or to “challenge hateful ideologies” however their feature remained unchallenged for the duration of the show, therefore reinforcing the connection between Muslims and violence.
This is exacerbated by smearing Muslims whilst humanising far-right terror. A study from Lancaster University highlights that for every mention of ‘moderate’ Muslims in the media, there are 21 references to ‘extremist’ Muslims and Muslims are collectively homogenised and portrayed as a threat to a “British way of life.” Another study conducted by the University of Alabama found that “Muslim extremists” receive 357% more coverage than “non-Muslim extremists.” In contrast, far-right terrorists are rationalised and understood to be lone wolves thereby not requiring the condemnation of the entire white community, or are excused for suffering with poor mental health as oppose to recognising the hatred that fuelled their atrocious actions. This was particularly evident in the Daily Mirror’s coverage of the New Zealand terrorist who was described as an “angelic boy.” This is an attempt to humanise the New Zealand terrorist, instead of focusing on the Muslim victims and contrasts previous publications of religious terror which focuses on humanising the victims.
This humanising the perpetrator and demonising the victim is also done more subtly. For example, reporters visiting the scene of Islamophobic hate crimes and asking leading questions to members of the community to allude a correlation between religiously motivated terrorism and hate crime which implies justification as a “revenge” attack. The consistent victim blaming includes expecting Muslims to speak out against religious terrorism even in the aftermath of an Islamophobic terror attack. To put this into context, we would not expect to see a reporter ask a Jewish person in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack if their community is doing enough to condemn Israel’s human right violations and yet questions like this are posed to Muslims regularly. Nonetheless, the prime minister of New Zealand has set an exemplary standard of leadership by condemning the terrorist unequivocally and implores people to never speak his name which serves to counter any humanising of him.
Justifications for Islamophobic hate crimes also frequently involve utilising, and sensationalising, the rate of immigration into Western countries. The reference to the white supremacist 14 words – “we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” is a prominent framework in the topic of immigration and was repeated in the manifesto of the New Zealand terrorist. The media frames immigration as a dire situation which is triggering fear amongst White Britons. When this is combined with an increasing racialisation of Muslims, far-right terror becomes justified as an inevitable reaction to the perceived threat of “foreign invaders.” To an extent, this conditioning has reflected in a nationwide survey conducted by the Observer which asked participants to rank the three most important issues they believe are facing Britain and ‘immigration’ ranked the highest. When this was contrasted to the important issues people believed affected them personally, the NHS, economy and low pay were amongst the issues ranked above immigration demonstrating how the media has distorted the narrative Nonetheless this depiction ignores how polls indicate that the middle class (media) are more likely to vote for right-wing ideologies such as UKIP and Trump, whilst simultaneously creating division amongst the working-class diversity of the working classes.
In the fast-paced world, we live in today, the majority of people do not have the time to critically analyse information and messages from the media. The media are therefore placed in a privileged position, with the authority to create, support or criticise ideas and beliefs. With this power comes a list of responsibilities to uphold which include objectivity, accountability and accuracy. As the media have failed to uphold these standards, MEND is committed to the commencement of the second part of the Leveson Inquiry, including an investigation into the prevalence of Islamophobia within the media.