Media and the Spread of Riots

Are these scare mongering headlines acting as recruitment posters?

There is no doubt in my mind that, at this point, you will have heard about or seen pictures of the riots which originated in Tottenham; allegedly a protest over the shooting of a man, named Mark Duggan, was hijacked by thugs. In fact by this time, you may be well and truly fed up of the coverage of the riots which seems to consist of the same images thrust in your face over and over. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t know about what is happening over the country; it is clearly very important for civilised society to pass judgement on the collapse of law and order and the atrocities happening across London, Birmingham, Manchester and more cities in England. Yet there’s something inside my mind which asks whether some of the journalists we see are getting a sick pleasure from finally getting a story for them to sink their teeth into. One reporter described scenes on the streets of Manchester as if describing a Hollywood action movie: “There are a number of dog handlers getting out…they’ve taken a man and pinned him to the ground”. There’s something unsettling in the glee in the reporter’s voice as he describes these undoubtedly exciting, yet disturbing, scenes to listeners.

Despite the almost unending news of frightening attacks on property and person it seems that, because the news has become so saturated with riot stories, a kaleidoscope of different more positive stories have sprung up. News that hundreds of residents near Clapham Junction have taken to cleaning the streets after the previous two nights of madness is a testament to the fact that amongst the wreckage, and whilst the looters are napping away surrounded by their ill-gotten gains, good people are helping others and coming together in what Mr Cameron would call ‘The Big Society’. Strange that it needs untold violence and damage to create this society, but it has sprung about nevertheless. The sense of community in the images and videos of these clean-ups, springing up in the worst hit areas, reminds me of grainy black and white films of Londoners in the blitz; battered, bruised and demoralised, yet defiant in the face of adversary. Despite the fact that these stories exist, the overriding image the media is giving us is one of “anarchy” and “lawlessness”. To my mind, the media should take the majority of the blame for the copycat riots springing up around London and the rest of the country.

Consider the front pages of various newspapers on Tuesday 10th. They consisted of; “The Anarchy Spreads” accompanied by an image of a masked youth and burning cars in the background (Daily Mail), “Yob Rule” with a similarly masked youth carrying a can of beer and walking in front of a burning car (Daily Mirror), and numerous other very similarly titled front pages with the same few images accompanying them. I ask the question, if these papers weren’t publishing a blueprint of what to do on the front page of their papers would these riots have spread as far north as Yorkshire?

Obviously, the answer is unlikely  to ever be answered accurately, but it certainly makes you think about what the press should and shouldn’t report. The so called ‘golden age’ of technology has helped these criminals to move from one spot to another rapidly whilst undermining the authorities’ attempts to disperse rioters. It has been reported that BBM and Twitter have been widely used by people to communicate locations and targets. So, all in all, the media hasn’t done the boroughs of London a hell of a lot of good.

It may seem trivial to bring up the media and its impact on modern society when people’s lives and livelihoods have been taken from them, but it is quite clear that there are some significant problems with the link between the spread of information and the spread of rioting. Is it possible that it will stop soon? Or will it simply spread to smaller towns and cities as the rubber bullets are fired in the capital and other big cities. There’s no question that the same disregard for the law exists everywhere from the north to the south of the country, once every good-for-nothing lazy layabout thug in the country knows how easy it is to simply smash a window and take what is inside, without any fear of recrimination, then who’s saying when and where the carnage will stop. I just hope to God that it stops before it creeps into your front room.