Friday 19 August 2011

UK Riots: Where's the journalism on the causes?

The Guardian's Paul Lewis, who has won plaudits for his frontline reporting of the riots in the UK, says journalists have so far failed to provide a thorough analysis of why the trouble broke out.

He contrasted the innovative way in which social media like Twitter was used to report the riots with a lack of analysis and attempts by journalists to get to the roots of what caused such large scale civil unrest.

Speaking at an NUJ meeting to discuss coverage of the riots, Lewis described much of the journalism in the aftermath of the riots as "really quite bad".

He said: "I haven't read a single good piece which has interviewed a lot of people who were involved in the riots. Not one. I cannot understand why that is. Foreign reporters manage to interview members of the Taliban but not interview kids who were involved in the riots in the UK. It's almost incomprehensible .

"It's such a prize to get to the bottom of why this really happened".

Lewis said he had also not read any articles which explained why the riots had spread to some cities but not others.

Referring to the Government ruling out an official inquiry into the riots, he added: "We've had one the most unprecedented moments of civil unrest and yet no-one is looking into it, no-one is asking why. That's where we journalists should step in but looking at the product of last week we haven't done it so far."

Tony Evans from The Times said reporting of the riots had been a "particularly grim period for journalism."

He accused 24 rolling news presenters of editorialising about the riots without providing any context or background.

Evans said Sky TV reporters had behaved like headmasters by challenging rioters and telling them: "I live round here, I can't believe what I'm seeing, are you proud of yourselves?".

"That's not journalism," Evans said. "Journalism should be the pursuit of the truth and pursuit of knowledge. We weren't seeing knowledge there we were getting the vicarious thrills of being in the middle of a riot."

He said he was disappointed that newspapers, which had the time to interview people and give them anonymity, had not talked to those involved in the rioting about the reasons why they were doing it.

"There's no sense of blaming politicians, it's all about punishment, it's all about victimisation and it's all about marginalising the people with the least voice."

Evans said he believed some journalists were afraid to confront the preconceptions of the mass of the British public at a time when public trust in them was so low.

He added: "Our role is to look for truth and I don't think we've looked for truth very well in the last few weeks."

Pic: Paul Lewis (Jon Slattery)

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