This is a re-post from the Media Lens website. Media Lens analyses UK media and exposes the elite bias embedded in it.
Ironies abound in the media reaction to the English riots that erupted between August 6-10.
It was widely reported that two young men acting independently – Jordan Blackshaw, 20, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22 – had been sentenced to four years in prison for trying to incite riots via Facebook in the Manchester area. This ‘despite both being of previous good character’, and despite the fact that their Facebook entries – viewed by a few hundred people – failed to generate a single rioter. Farcically, the only people waiting for Blackshaw at his gathering point were the police.
The four-year jail sentences were harsh indeed, as the Guardian noted:
‘If the two Cheshire men had left home and actually taken part in a riot, it is likely they would have been charged with violent disorder. The average sentence passed on the 372 people convicted of violent disorder in 2010 was just over 18 months. The 1,434 people convicted of public order offences last year got, on average, two months inside.
‘Normally, to qualify for a four-year sentence, a convict would have to kidnap somebody (average sentence 47 months in 2010), kill someone while drink driving (45 months), or carry out a sexual assault (48 months).’
Clearly, judges felt that even failed attempts to incite disruption via social media were worse than actual participation in the riots.
Writing in the Daily Mail, columnist Melanie Phillips located the cause of the riots in ‘fatherless boys who are consumed by an existential rage and desperate emotional need, and who take out the damage done to them by lashing out from infancy at everyone around them’.
This vicious behaviour is fostered by ‘a world without any boundaries or rules. A world of emotional and physical chaos. A world where a child responds to the slightest setback or disagreement by resorting to violence.’
And who can doubt that compassion and restraint in the face of disagreement offer the best hopes for a peaceful world? The 11th century Buddhist poet Ksemendra recalled the wise counsel offered to one enraged king:
‘Lord, do not talk like this. If you return anger for anger, anger increases. If you give hate in return for hatred, you will never be rid of your enemies. Would you put out a fire by covering it with wood? It will always rekindle… If you meditate on tolerance to overcome anger, all will become your friends.’ (Leaves of the Heaven Tree, Dharma Publishing, 1997, p.333)
Earlier this month, Phillips commented on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks:
‘The real problem with the US and UK reaction to 9/11 was that they did not follow through… we should have gone on to deal with Iran, Syria, Pakistan and Saudi as well.’
Did she mean ‘deal with’ their concerns and grievances in a just and even-handed way? Should the US and UK have recognised their own wrongdoing, their own responsibility for generating hatred? In clarification, Phillips quoted herself from September 2002:
‘The US hopes that sorting Saddam will deliver to these other states the simple message: unless you desist from terror, you’re next.’
A world ‘without any boundaries or rules’, in other words, where unilaterally ‘resorting to violence’ and ‘lashing out’ is the natural response.
Journalists like Phillips, who use national media platforms like the Daily Mail (circulation 2 million) to agitate for war at a time when the decision lies in the balance, are typically garlanded with awards, not sent to the slammer. After two years spent cold-selling Blair’s war on Iraq, David Aaronovitch, then of the Guardian, won the What the Papers Say Columnist of The Year Award for 2003. In the same year, following a similar pro-war performance, the Independent’s Johann Hari was made Young Journalist of the Year at the British Press Awards (to his credit, Hari has since recanted his support for the Iraq war). Phillips was awarded the Orwell Prize for Journalism in 1996.
Politicians do even better, of course. Last month, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Tony Blair, now the Middle East Quartet’s Special Envoy, was to receive an award ‘to express Israel’s appreciation for his efforts toward Middle East peace’. A decision worthy of a different kind of Orwell Prize. Meanwhile, Channel 4 reports:
‘Since resigning in June 2007 Tony Blair has financially enriched himself more than any ex-Prime Minister ever. Reporter Peter Oborne reveals some of the sources of his new-found wealth, much of which comes from the Middle East.’