We were all totally horrified by the recent riots – recreational violence and thieving on an industrial scale. They were followed, rightly, by a wide-ranging debate. But one aspect which has had relatively little attention is the media.
Back in the 1970s when as children we watched Match of the Day, there would often have been hooligan trouble, but they would say ‘we do have pictures but we aren’t going to show them for fear of encouraging other incidents’. How the media has changed since then. From self-censorship of still photographs, to live blow-by-blow coverage on 24-hour rolling news channels. Meanwhile a million armchair Twitterers give their comment on the ‘hashtag-riots’.
The rioting we saw was criminality, pure and simple. And most of it was ‘copy cat’ criminality. So it is right to ask how the media should act in these circumstances.
No-one would suggest that news channels should not cover these awful events. Of course they must. It is vital for people to know what is going on. And it is important, too, for democratic accountability. But we need to look at exactly how the coverage is done – and I hope the media organisations themselves will take a lead in this. Social media requires attention too. Locally, Hampshire police did a great job in reassuring people (including via Twitter). But so much the better if the rumours aren’t being started and so don’t need to be quashed.