ATTACKED BY THE MEDIA: Mark Duggan
THE BRITISH media prides itself on being an institution based on honesty, objectivity and integrity – the opposite of, say, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News.
It is held in this esteem by others too. But there are times when the media either permits itself to be manipulated or to act as the agent of manipulation, just like Fox News does. War is often a good example of this.
During wars all normal media rules of objectivity are thrown out of the window. A nation cannot effectively go to war with a bunch of ‘very nice people’, therefore the enemy must be defined –by the media- in a manner so damning that you and I don’t care how or why they’re killed.
It has largely gone under the radar but this exact war-time media strategy is often used against elements of our own society to construct convenient narratives.
The killing of Mark Duggan crystallised this. The moment Mark Duggan was shot he was immediately labelled a well known ‘gangsta’ (gangster) in the media. However not one report found space to mention his criminal record. And it was soon clear why – he didn’t have one. Yet that didn’t stop the media’s gangsta narrative.
Then came the issue of the shootout. The media initially reported that Mark Duggan shot at the police and was out-gunned and died as a result. The only problem was it soon became clear that this never happened. Yet the gangsta narrative still persisted.
And then came the damning, credibility destroying, and catastrophic issue of the bullet lodged in a police radio. At first you were led to believe Duggan was responsible, before it became clear that the bullet belonged to the officers themselves.
Yet despite the emergence of a clear scandal that would make the writers of The Shield salivate, the media still considered the ‘gangsta’ narrative to be more important.
At Duggan’s funeral, ITV News –in a piece that would make Fox News blush- disgracefully felt the need to portray Duggan as a gangster, suspected drug dealer and elder of the gang culture on the estate where he lived.
Even independently verifiable facts, such as “did he have any convictions?” were left open to subjective conclusion.
As police watchdog, the IPCC, was forced to admit, the media was manipulated (“misled”) at first. But then it became very clear that the media was manipulating (misleading) the public in order, it appears, to negate an emerging picture which suggested that a miscarriage of justice or even a crime may have been carried out by the Police.
Duggan had to be made the enemy in the eyes of the public.
Though disturbing, this strategy is not new at all. To draw a parallel with recent history: the treatment of Duggan after the shooting and the treatment of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the run up to the 2003 invasion followed the exact same script.
Although the situations themselves are not comparable the strategy deployed in each has remarkable similarities. The media was used to aggressively push an agenda of demonisation and dehumanisation in a bid to eradicate any sympathy, questioning or criticism that the actions involved would otherwise generate.
It doesn’t matter if the portrayals are true or false as long as they are effective at damning their target. Whereas Iraq’s fate was justified in the name of weapons of mass destruction (never existed), Duggan’s was justified in the name of shooting at the Police (never happened).
Both turned out to be untrue, but both Duggan and Iraq were damned nonetheless, and so far no one has been held accountable for either situation.
Ironically if you wanted humane and fair TV news coverage of the Duggan killing and the riots it subsequently sparked you’d have to turn to Middle Eastern news stations such as Al Jazeera. For pro-Duggan coverage you’d have to watch Iran’s Press TV.
When David Cameron declared war on gangs I was left wondering if he was just making existing policy official. The media was certainly under that impression. Sadly for Duggan and his family (if the media are to be believed) the truth was not the first casualty of this war. He was.