The media landscape is changing, today people spend most of their time looking at screens and are informing themselves via online newspapers and social media. Their perception of reality is increasingly influenced by how stories are reported. But are journalists and news producers unbiased? A lot of people don’t think so and are accusing them of being racist.
Focusing on the United States, minorities have been harmed by fake news or distortion of news for a long time. For example, in 1690 the newspaper Publick Occurrences portrayed Indigenous people as barbarous and savage and in the early 1700s The Boston News-Letter wrote that the local Black population was “addicted to Stealing, Lying and Purloining.”. During the 1950s and 1960s, media outlets in the south opposed the civil rights movement. Today this is more subtle, but misreporting is still happening.
Calling criminals by their names
On December 28, 2019, an African American man, Grafton Thomas, stabbed 5 people killing one of them in Rockland County, New York, during a Hannukah party. This man was labelled as a domestic terrorist.
On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen, a man of Afghan American origins, killed 49 people in a mass shooting inside a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. He was also labelled as a domestic terrorist.
On the other hand, Stephen Paddock, a white man, was labelled as mentally ill after he killed 60 people in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017.
And similarly, a white man called Dylan Roof killed nine African Americans in a church in Charleston, Carolina, on June 17, 2015, and was described in the news as mentally ill.
There are many other examples, but It’s already clear how stories are told differently if the subjects are white, black, or any other race.
White terrorists are not called terrorists. They are humanized, their backstories are told, their mental health is discussed.
It is even questioned if they have been failed by society. They are always suffering childhood trauma or other tragic circumstances that brought them to that point and they never received any care.
But if the suspects are Black or Arab the story is different, they are instantly labelled as dangerous terrorists, there isn’t a lot said about them and it’s never pointed out that the act was out of character or if they had a good background. And within the context of ‘racism’ and ‘racial disparity’, the most likely to succumb to mental illness would be the minorities themselves.
It’s almost as if people are biased towards minorities because they see them as ‘different’, finding the reason behind a violent act if the perpetrator is white but assuming that the reason is his race if he isn’t.
These are all criminals, they are all humans, and they should all receive the same treatment by the media.
What are the consequences of systemic racism in the media?
How stories are reported can strongly influence the way we think and behave.
Black people are continuously described as murderers, Arabs as terrorists, Latinos as illegal immigrants, and so on. If this keeps happening these prejudices will be absorbed in society, even more than they already are, resulting in less integration and possibly more hate crimes.
The reports may have incomplete or skewed facts which don’t allow people to see what actually happened, but being aware of systematic bias in the media is very important to start making a difference.
In the future, I hope race won’t be one of the first characteristics stated about a person in news articles and more importantly it won’t matter to anyone when judging a person’s actions. It is not his skin colour or religion that can make a person a criminal, there are other reasons that we can work on and fix as a society. Everybody should feel important, heard, and cared for. Economic support should be granted to those who need it and besides that, I’m convinced that education and psychological assistance are crucial. If instead of focusing on race, the media starts focusing on the reasons a person commits a crime, maybe the world would be a better place.