It’s not the first time that someone has been murdered in London this year, but it’s entirely understandable that yesterday’s brutal and horrific killing in Woolwich has gained so much attention. There is still an underlying nervousness in our society surrounding terrorism and religious extremism That’s why it was imperative that the violence caused was condemned across the board as quickly as possible. To refrain from doing so would have given more fuel to groups such as the English Defence League and British National Party in their hateful opposition to Muslims.
It was therefore welcoming to see the Muslim Council of Britain denouncing the Woolwich murder along with many other Muslims who took to Twitter to voice their disgust at such a barbaric act. There are teachings in the Qu’ran that can be interpreted in a certain way to justify this sort of action and undoubtedly there are pockets within the Muslim community that are giving great cause for concern but to lump all Muslims together in any way is no more accurate than calling all football supporters hooligans. This is why it was so frustrating to hear initial reports from the BBC when the news was coming in that the two attackers were of “Muslim appearance”. This was deeply inappropriate given the immediacy of the situation and the lack of solid information. It’s hard to understand what the benefit was of using such a phrase unless it was to present a stereotype of Muslims as unhinged extremists. Nick Robinson later tweeted this in his defence:
To blame his words on both the police and government is hardly an excuse. It would seem that the pressure to get events from a significant breaking story out as quickly as possible has led the media to make some rash and insensitive decisions. The ‘Muslim appearance’ comment was bad, but not as poorly judged as ITV’s gruesome footage of one of the murderers speaking to camera with the victim’s blood all over his hands, still clutching the murder weapons whilst the body lay in the background. The video was labelled as an exclusive, which would usually mean that its purpose would be to gain as many ratings as possible. In the clamour to get attention, ITV has thrown sensitivity out of the window. Most of today’s papers have done no better, splashing graphic images over their pages.
The media coverage of yesterday’s events is symptomatic of a creeping trend for more violent and graphic images to be shown in the news. Over time we have become increasingly desensitised as the shock value has diminished, but is this such a good thing? It could be argued that we’re being presented with a more real and accurate picture of the story. Somewhere though is a family of a dead soldier whose body has been butchered and the aftermath has been broadcast repeatedly in detail. How would each one of us feel if that victim was our friend or son or husband or father?
I was unable to watch the news last night. The way the story had been covered left me feeling physically sick and in grief for those who knew the dead man. Yesterday was not the media’s finest moment by a long way. When the media whips itself up into a frenzy it rarely makes good judgments. Is this approach really the direction we want it to continue to take?
Update 23 May pm: Nick Robinson has now published an apology on the BBC website regarding his comments and ITV has blurred parts of their video footage, which justifies the point this article on rushing things out with a lack of thought.