Media & Morality

Media and Morality, by a former journalist

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I’m not sure I could ever work in journalism again, unless of course there was a promise that I didn’t have to sell my soul and give up my principles. 

I’m really not saying all journalists are cut from the same cloth, but it takes someone really special to stick at it and work for locals and mainstream. And by special I mean detached.

After seeing some of the inflammatory headlines and terminology being used in the mainstream and local media following some of the Black Lives Matter protests over the weekend, I’ve been left feeling disappointed, angry and provoked. Because that’s exactly what they were aimed at – provocation.

While I’m very much aware that some of the protests led to statues being defaced, graffiti and in some cases injury, having been at one of the peaceful protests myself I can say that 100% of the organised protest at the location of our event was peaceful. Anything else is unassociated, borne out of many unassociated with the protests, wishing to capitalise on it. 

And when it comes to the defacing or removal of statues – why spend time defending the bronze of a history based on mis-education and slavery in a world where freedom still doesn’t exist.

Nottingham protests

In spite of the peace and positivity in Nottingham, my local paper chose to report the scribing of “Black Lives Matter” graffiti on the Nottingham Council House rather than any of the the scripts of the moving speeches at the protest.They chose to use the aggressive words “chaos” and “vandals” over  “love” and “peace.” 

I’ll let you be the judge of whether the use of the adjective “chaos” is hyperbolic nonsense when describing graffiti. Though a media aspiration of “chaos” in a bid to get those clicks and sell papers wouldn’t be that far fetched. After all, aren’t newspapers a dying industry? 

I used to work for this newspaper and even though I never went against my own morals I still feel like I was somehow complicit in it – it makes me feel sick.

What the media need to understand is that it only takes one person to react and riots ensue. Then who’s to blame, the protestors? Or the media?

They didn’t mention in real time (as they did with the “chaos”) that protestors unassociated with the act had offered to clear it up. No. They waited until the most of the protestors had cleared the city. Or until the next day to report on the sense of community felt from that.

Timing is everything.

Training as a journalist

During my training as a journalist I was taught how we were the conscience of the world with a moral duty to present the facts and the importance of this was stressed during the majority of the Public Affairs module we studied – or we and the publication we were writing for would face drastic consequences. That thought was scary. 

Firstly, why would a journalist never want to present the facts? Secondly, why would a journalist not present the facts if there was a chance there would be repercussions?

When I actually started working for newspapers, the stories I heard from my colleagues meant that it didn’t seem to matter if you had ethics, or were taught on your accredited course that you had to have morals and present factual information. No, that was trained out of you in the race to sell papers.

Diversity funding

I actually started my journey as a journalist after applying for a Diversity scholarship with the NCTJ (The National Council For the Trainee of Journalists.) A brilliant initiative aimed at funding journalistic education for those from diverse backgrounds. Being a keen writer, I hoped, like many other applicants, that I could give diversity a voice in the media after having to read the daily hate speech of the papers against Arabs and muslims. Hate that informed the bullies who ridiculed me at school and shaped the social constructs around me. My father is from North Africa and my mother Ukrainian.

After a nerve wracking process, I secured the scholarship. The irony is that at that same time I was offered a bursary by my university to conduct research for my paper on black postcolonial literature.

Oh what I’d give to turn back time.

I went on to hold internships at two broadsheets with plenty of bylines. Lucky enough to report on the London Olympics in 2012 though my stories around that time were often focused on tarnishing the event and provoking anger about it rather than celebrating it. 

Fast forward to my work with local newspapers and it got worse. I freelanced for one local paper that chose to print the story of two black shoplifters, caught on CCTV, on the frontpage over four white drunk drivers crashing into a civilian front garden. When I think back now, I went home and told my mum it upset me, though I never asked the editor why, probably because I knew I wouldn’t like the answer. I won’t even go into what the editor said when I told him I needed time off because my mum had cancer, but that’s another story.

Another time I was sent out on a story by my deputy editor, she’d told me there had been reports of a man trying to jump out of the window of a residential property but the only thing she’d been told was the name of a corner shop nearby. She knew, but hadn’t told me that the shop was actually owned by the parents of the man who’d made an attempt to take his life.

I can understand why I was escorted out of the shop by my hair.

I called my deputy editor and she told me to knock on neighbouring doors to get a quote for the story. I sat in my car while time passed and when I called her back pretended nobody had answered their door. 

When I told an older colleague she said that was nothing compared to reporting on the cot death of a baby and being asked to knock on the parent’s door. 

What I’m trying to get at here is that there are no boundaries and in most cases no morals.

I went into journalism thinking I could change bias, present the facts and remove sensationalism, but censorship makes it impossible, because then nobody would buy into it. I wonder if we’d be where we are now if the media hadn’t had their hand in it.

The media duty

Black Lives Matter is not a subjective opinion and it’s about time that newspapers and the media were unequivocal in declaring that otherwise they’re very much complicit in racism. Peel back those layers of racist politicisation which make supporting Black Lives Matter seem more of a political stance than a necessity.

The idea of two sides – with one fighting for their right to live free of violence and the other fighting against – obscures the reality.

Black Lives Matter.

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