“When people end up dead after contact with the police, we’re told not to jump to conclusions… this presumption of innocence doesn’t apply to the people who end up dead. The media highlighted things that may have happened in Chris’ past, and not his present.”
By Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP
From Hillsborough to Orgreave, we’ve seen journalists colluding with the powerful instead of telling the truth about what happened.
These stories are heartbreaking evidence of the way that the press puts the interests of the powerful before the interests of the people.
The tragic fatal police shooting of Chris Kaba, an unarmed Black man, a few weeks ago in my own constituency made this all very clear again.
Chris was shot in the head by a police officer. He was unarmed. The car he was driving, which triggered the police pursuit, was not registered in his name.
Part of the problem is when IOPC investigations take place, they don’t release any information, so as not to prejudice the investigation.
Unfortunately, the media doesn’t seem to think about that when they put things out. When people end up dead after contact with the police, we’re told not to jump to conclusions. But sadly, this presumption of innocence doesn’t apply to the people who end up dead.
The media highlighted things that may have happened in Chris’ past, and not his present.
The press reported on him as a drill artist and a rapper, as if that’s a way of justifying why he found himself in that situation, or that he’d been arrested before for a firearms offence – without bothering to clarify or perhaps to even check that he never actually held a firearm.
They reported eyewitness investigations that backed up their outlet’s preconceived biases about Black people without acknowledging other eyewitness reports stating the exact opposite.
His family have shown utter dignity in the face of all of this. But it’s been disgusting to witness the way the press fetishizes Black pain in response to these kind of tragedies. It’s been made clear that part of the reason we have press intrusion is because “grief sells newspapers”. For profit media cannot be relied on to tell the truth.
At the heart of all of this, there are serious questions about power and ownership. As of March 2021, 90% of the UK newspaper market is dominated by just two billionaires. Those companies are the Daily Mail Group (owned by Lord Rothermere), Reach PLC and News UK (both owned by Rupert Murdoch).
The share of titles owned by these companies is up from 71% in 2015, which shows how quickly this tendency is accelerating over the last few years.
Publications do have to be responsive to audiences and consumers. But the fundamental truth is these publications are never going to deviate from their billionaire owners’ interests and they still have an outsized shaping influence on public life.
One of the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry was the establishment of an independent regulation body for the UK Press. We know that IPSO (the Independent Press Standards Organisation) is a sham regulator. IPSO has existed for 2900 days without launching a single standards investigation into the press.
It has upheld less than 3% of complaints of intrusion into grief. So hundreds of families every year are left with nowhere to turn after experiencing press intrusion into grief.
IMPRESS, the independent press monitoring organisation, has published a standards code with guidance for media outlets on reporting. The code states that publishers should “take all reasonable steps not to exacerbate grief or distress through intrusive newsgathering or reporting”.
It makes clear that when reporting on loss, “journalists should be particularly careful to avoid making any approaches that may result in the harassment of a person who is suffering from grief or shock, or towards their friends, colleagues or wider families.”
We know that not a single major national newspaper has signed up to be regulated by IMPRESS. Ensuring newspapers are held to these standards would be a good start.
I was also proud to stand on a manifesto that promised to address press misconduct and unresolved corporate governance failures highlighted in the second stage of the abandoned Leveson inquiry. Families want the truth of their stories told.
I hope any Labour Government will think very seriously about how we can start to build a genuinely independent, accountable, and, above all, democratic, media that is actually capable of doing this.
- This article is a published version of a speech given by Bell Ribeiro-Addy at “The British press: Exposing the powerful – or protecting them?” fringe event hosted by Hacked Off at Labour Party Conference 2022.
- Bell Ribeiro-Addy is MP for Streatham, you can follow her on Facebook, Instagram and twitter.