Saturday, January 28, 2006

Sir Ian Blair

Yes, his comments were ill-advised. But I can't help but feel that to a certain extent, they were also accurate. There are many kidnappings, abductions, and missing people every year, and each one of them is a tragedy. Yet only a fraction make the news, and fewer still get round-the-clock coverage with entire newsrooms decamping to the location of the site. And, of course, to get that attention the abductee(s) are usually young girls. No-one says the media is institutionally sexist in its reporting, though.

Now, I can understand why the Soham murders received the amount of press coverage that they did. There is an emotional pull to a story like that, and it occurred in the middle of summer when there was little else that was newsworthy. Moreover, once one company is devoting much of its time and resources to covering it, there is a fear among others that not doing the same will make them miss out. It's game theory, media-style - we can only lose by not covering the story, so lets make sure we lavish our attention on it.

What about Blair's comments that the media is institutionally racist in its reporting of murders? Well, I think his remarks need qualifying at best. The media are interested in the murders of black people, but only when their killers are white. That said, if his remarks will cause a rethink in the media regarding which murders are newsworthy and which aren't, then it's probably a good thing. My guess is that when you think of murders like that of Thomas Rhys Price, the media is actually institutionally elitist. Murders of rich people in rich areas are much more frightening.

As for the storm Ian Blair kicked up for himself, well, for a man in his position he was very stupid. But I can't help but feel that on this occasion, he's actually raised some valid points that are worth considering. If you want to hate Ian Blair, there are far better reasons for doing it than for what he said on Thursday - his handling of the Stockwell shooting; his campaign to allow 90-day internment. Both of those are far more worrying than a few comments about the way policing is handled by the media.