On an average day I devour news: I buy one morning paper and, most days, an evening paper (guess which one!) a weekly local paper - no need to guess this time - and a quality Sunday.
Two reasons: I have an academic interest in how news media cover criminal justice and because I almost feel naked if I don't know what's going on. Twitter is my cloak.
So, I was interested in a piece published by the Mail Online yesterday, February 28 2012, and replicated, in slightly more subdued mode, by the Mirror and less prominently by the Express website.
It didn't, however, raise an editorial eyebrow in any of the quality press.
The Mail headlined the piece: "Parts of Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool are 'no go areas' because of drugs gangs ... Just like Mexico and Brazil says UNITED NATIONS."
I thought it strange. For a start I can't imagine anywhere in these UK cities being remotely like the lawlessness of parts of Mexico and secondly, I would have thought that a newspaper so objective in its reporting as the mail might have noticed this BEFORE being tipped off by the UN.
What attracts me to the Mail, like a moth to a flame, is the readers comments: Ever so predictable with "It's all Labour's fault" and "That's why I left Britain" being oft used and fairly typical.
It is clear that the readership, or certainly those who comment believe every last crossed 't' and dotted 'i' they read.
Being a tad more cynical I went off and checked the source: it is the United Nations "Report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 2011".
Having read it I can find absolutely NO justification for any suggestion that there are 'no go areas' in UK cities.
Indeed, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham are cited as examples of worthwhile partnership working to deal with the issues of drugs.
The report highlights that in Brazil and Mexico armed criminal gangs have targeted law enforcement officers, killing significant numbers of police officers. Is this Liverpool, Manchester or Birmingham – no – this is the northern border of Mexico where drugs gangs are intent on controlling the supply of drugs crossing into the United States.
So why does a national newspaper want to report something that simply is not true?
Stan Cohen and Jock Young, two noted criminologists have written extensively on this subject and noted how the news media sometimes exaggerate or even make things up just to create a Moral Panic.
Another example of this is the way that the activities of young people are reported in the news. If you didn’t know better you’d think all my students were drug taking, stay in bed until lunchtime, layabouts all doing worthless degrees when the reality is that the vast majority are hard working, mainly sober and intent on working to make society a better place.
This is called social control. It doesn’t permit you, the man and woman on the street, to have the facts to make your mind up.
It has an agenda – a political agenda set by its owners, endorsed by many of its advertisers and promulgated by its editor.
So, next time you are reading, watching or listening to the news make sure you understand both what they are saying and, as importantly, why they are reporting this particular story.
Of course, if you stick to the Times & Star, you'll be fine!
Published: February 29, 2012
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