Sympathy for police chief's racism charge

By Zoe Smith

Allegations
of institutional racism in the media from Britain’s top policeman have
struck a chord with senior journalists in the national press.

But others have said police press officers must take some of the
blame for the disparity in press coverage given to murders that
happened on the same day.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir
Ian Blair last week compared the widespread media coverage of the
murder of white 31-year-old lawyer Tom ap Rhys Pryce with the sparse
coverage of Asian Balbir Matharu, who was dragged to his death under
the wheels of a car after confronting two thieves.

He also said that nobody could understand why the “dreadful” Soham murders became “the biggest story in Britain”.

Joseph
Harker, The Guardian’s deputy comment editor, said: “Ian Blair was
absolutely right. The media is institutionally racist.”

He added:
“There have been a few changes since the Macpherson Inquiry [into the
death of Stephen Lawrence] and people have recognised that there is a
problem, but look at the make-up of the national press and the London
press in particular.

“The Evening Standard covers a city which is one-third ethnic minorities.

And yet if you look at how many of its senior editorial staff are minorities – I would argue that the number is zero.

“If
you look at the number of commissioning editors, the people who set the
agenda by actually making the decisions as to what goes on the pages,
you’ll find that it’s almost exclusively white. “

Sun crime
editor Mike Sullivan argued that the difference in the coverage of the
killings of Matharu and Rhys Pryce was partly due to the way the police
press office dealt with them.

He said: “The major difference is
that in the police press release on Balbir’s murder, they used legalese
and said that he had been “in collision” with a car to describe how he
died, instead of describing the fact that he had been dragged 75 yards
under the wheels.

They didn’t have a photograph, there were no press facilities that day.

“You can draw a comparison to Tom’s murder where they release a photograph virtually immediately.

“The
senior investigating officer went to the scene where he gave a full and
lucid account of what happened. There were details of wedding plans
that were blowing in the wind, and of course that was the story. It
think it was naive of the commissioner to just blame us purely for
being institutionally racist.”

He added: “Several days after
Balbir’s murder, the police actually did get their act into gear and
held a press conference with Balbir’s daughter. It made for very good
copy… but it was all too late.

In our industry, once a story
starts rolling and it becomes a big story, it almost generates its own
interest to ourselves and the readers.

“I think colour played a
part in it, I wouldn’t say it didn’t for a moment, but I think it was
also the detail, particularly the detail the police released that made
[the murder of Tom ap Rhys Pryce] a more important story for the media
compared with Balbir’s.”

In response to Joseph Harker’s
criticisms of her paper, Evening Standard editor Veronica Wadley said:
“We are proud to reflect life in the capital for all who live and work
here.

“It is wrong to suggest this about our editorial team.
There is a good ethnic mix among our editorial staff with excellent
journalists from a wide range of backgrounds and origins, which is
essential for a newspaper such as the Standard.”

A senior
national press journalist, writing anonymously in Press Gazette this
week, said: “Much though I loathe the tendency of right-on coppers such
as Sir Ian Blair to search for political correctness rather than search
for villains, I have to admit he had a point.

There is something odd nowadays about the British and their media.”

The source added: “The reaction to the Soham murders was peculiar.”

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