MANCHESTER AND THE SORRY STATE OF BRITISH JOURNALISM

by Rob Harding

CW: article contains descriptions of the Manchester terrorist attack, racist discourse, links to images of war crimes.

The official threat level after the terror attack in Manchester is back down from Critical to Serious, and the country has started to move on. The news cycle seems to have been slightly shorter, as well; at time of writing the front page of the BBC News website is largely concerned with technical problems at British Airways and I-kid-you-not a cheese rolling competition.

I’d love to say that this particular terrorist incident didn’t incite the usual wave of hate and disgustingly inappropriate coverage that tends to follow such events, including random hate crimes, thundering headlines and political manoeuvring. I’d love to.

But The Daily Mail exists. And The Sun. And the political climate in the UK has become sufficiently toxic that even without those two, the response was nonetheless as unpleasant as any I’ve seen.

First out of the gate, literally minutes after the explosion, a US-based journalist and human equivalent of the scum that collects under the lip of a wheelie-bin called David Leavitt decided that this would be funny.

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I hate that we live in a world so desensitised to violence that that tweet could even happen. And I hate seeing what the media and social media machines that dominate our culture have become in their desperate attempts to draw more clicks.

The night of the attack also saw the most dystopian cyberpunk concept imaginable – fake ‘missing person’ accounts springing up online using images of random teenagers to garner sympathy, shares and retweets by pretending to be searching for a missing relative. That these anonymous people drowned out actual frantic search efforts online by spreading misinformation in pursuit  of utterly meaningless internet points is, frankly, dark as fuck. It’s an action so coldly inhuman that it leaves me confused more than angry. I literally cannot understand the mindset behind it, or see any tangible benefit beyond meaningless data points. Oh, and, as the article notes, harassment of (often female) journalists and online personalities is often involved.

there’s always a concern that viewers will tune out of the respectable outlets

Kids on social media are still far behind the traditional media in terms of scummy behaviour, of course. The Daily Mail reached new depths. In an article published on the 24th, Mail journalist (and shame on the profession) James Harkin found a way to blame Ariana Grande for the attack, by claiming her revealing outfits attract violent extremists. Because an appropriate approach to the aftermath of a horrific attack on a concert targeting women and girls is to blame the lead singer for her appearance (if you’re a vile excuse for a human being).

Ranting shitehawk Katie Hopkins, a regular contributor, was fired from LBC for tweeting about the need for a ‘final solution’. Shortly afterwards, Piers Morgan weighed in, chastising Ariana Grande (who was in the building when a suicide bomber targeted her and her fans, and was understandably traumatised) for going home to Florida instead of visiting victims a few days later like the Queen did (who was not in the building, targeted or in any way connected to the attacks).

I have no words. There’s nothing I can call Mr Morgan that expresses the depths of my contempt for this response, or his public persona, attitudes and beliefs.

Ariana Grande will be returning to Manchester, by the way, to perform a benefit concert.

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Oh, and The Sun did something foul as well, although why the hell anyone expects those bastards to do any better at this point is beyond me. They’re on their way to being not only widely hated but actually banned from a second major British city, for milking the face of a dead child and putting her next to a picture of her killer to tug at heartstrings and sell papers. Both papers (and indeed most of the British press) followed up this attack with their now-standard barrage of hate, xenophobia and an utter lack of dignity or respect for the victims, because that’s pretty much how they operate, the irredeemable bunch of vultures.

The Conservatives want to kill the second Leveson inquiry into the press, by the way. Not telling you how to vote, but do you really want to vote for this?

Oh, and don’t think the other media outlets covering the attack had much more integrity. The Daily Telegraph has decided that the bomber may have funded his attack on benefit money and a student loan. The New York Times published pictures taken from the crime scene and leaked by US intelligence. The Independent recycled DAESH propaganda, and indeed pretty much every outlet slavishly published news that ISIS had claimed responsibility as soon as it surfaced.

Worse, others went after the families of the victims. Dan Hett, the brother of the YouTuber Martyn Hett who died in the attack, was repeatedly harassed by journalists in search of content to feed into the mill, before he even knew his brother was dead. In the past, journalists in search of scoops have hacked phones and posted pictures of victims without permission or consent.

Now, I understand why they do this. 24-hour news coverage needs content, and any possible scrap of information, and even tiny, ghoulish scoops, can garner vast quantities of attention that translates to ad revenue and relevance. And while outlets exist that have no standards, no dignity, and no goddamn respect for anything bar the attention they get, there’s always a concern that viewers will tune out of the respectable outlets, providing verified and humanely presented facts, in favour of in-depth examinations of the moment a woman held her dying daughter in her arms or fake reports of mass shootings and followup attacks.

The British media is a national embarrassment.

Sometimes, poignant, grisly news coverage is necessary – trying to instil compassion for forgotten victims of distant wars, or raise awareness of injustice and torture (CONTENT WARNING: Link contains war crimes) But this? You don’t need to drum up horror at what happened, or anger against the perpetrator, because they’ve just blown up children on British soil. The British people are already going to be horrified and traumatised as it is. It’s especially irresponsible when considering that this kind of coverage can cause actual mental health issues and PTSD among those watching it, aside from the fact that it’s fucking disgusting that it’s presented at all.

The British media is a national embarrassment. Our tabloids are known worldwide as a stain on the good name of journalism. This needs to change, or next time one of these happens, the same vultures will come flocking down on the victims, and real harm will be done in the name of ad revenue and retweets.

Featured image © Laurene Boglio, via Huck magazine


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