London Riots: How UK Media Missed The Mark

Last Monday while in the library writing my dissertation, I heard a round of sirens ringing outside for almost 50 minutes straight. Eventually I checked the BBC website to see if any new riots had broken out since unrest had just taken place in Hackney a few hours before and during previous nights over in Brixton, Tottenham and Enfield. BBC’s site held nothing but left over commentary from the previous riots. So of course, I turned to Twitter and in three minutes I learned that riots began in two neighborhoods surrounding my school. I decided to pack up and go home.

That night, I watched Croydon burn along with images of the previous riots in Hackney, Peckham and Lewisham. However, things were increasingly taking place all around London. How did I know? Certainly not from any of my trusty news outlets. In fact, if I was in the street and needed a viable source to turn for the latest information on where to avoid for my safety, I could not depend on any of the media outlets. Much of the BBC that evening was filled with “expert” sources pointing fingers and offering their opinion on why things were happening and why Facebook and Twitter were to blame — as things were happening.

Over the course of the next three days, many media outlets  continued to exercise very poor judgement when it came to covering the varied perspectives of the British community. The aftermath of this historical act of rebellion and frustration has ignited an energy that I don’t believe this country has ever seen and now discussions about race, class, inequality are happening in communities all around England. Yet much of what we have seen on television has been blatantly ignorant, disrespectful and one-sided.

Over the past week, we have seen writer and broadcaster Darcus Howe attempt to make a valid statement of what may have led to the Tottenham riots, while being frequently interrupted by a host who then tried to accuse him of being a one-time menace to society by taking place in a riot himself. Then a few days later on BBC Newsnight, British historian David Starkey enlightened us with statements on how “whites have become black”… blaming the riots on the a spread of black culture and Jamaican patois. Of course, he was free to defend his position with no interruption, although challenged by author Owen Jones who shared the stage with him, along with Dedra Say Mitchell, a black female broadcaster who added nothing substantial to the conversation.

Throughout his rant, the host failed to question his outrageous comments and even continued to ask him for more insight later in the segment. This lack of responsibility on behalf of the producers who failed to find a solid black voice to challenge Starkey’s racist views and the host who failed to guide the conversation in a constructive manner certainly leaves a lot to be asked of the BBC and its business.

Meanwhile, there have been several videos posted on YouTube and other websites featuring people in communities around London openly discussing many of the issues that may have contributed to the past week’s riots. The conversations are heated, insightful and clearly needed at a time when exchanges of this type have not taken place and perhaps are just part of the problem.

It’s unfortunate that the producers at the BBC can’t find any of these expert sources and host a real debate featuring insights from strong voices of the British community as opposed to the limited perspectives that we’ve seen thus far. It is also appalling how freely individuals can make racist comments on national television without being challenged. It speaks volumes of how people of color and those of certain classes are respected in this country.

Each month, all British residents who own televisions pay a TV tax which goes to support the BBC. Is this where our money is going?

The BBC has already issued an apology for the Darcus Howe interview. Now, there is petition calling for the network to be fined and make another apology for their irresponsible handling of the David Starkey interview.

Clearly the community is talking … it’s just too bad that its primary media outlet is having another conversation.

Darcus Howe: “Have Some Respect”

David Starkey: “The Whites Have Become Blacks”

What the Clapham Community Has to Say:

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