Inaccurate stories have long been splashed on the front pages of our country’s newspapers. Examples include the claims that Muslims are forcibly trying to adopt white Christian children, that Muslims are plotting to take over schools in Birmingham, or that ‘84 percent of grooming gangs are made up of Asian men’ – a stat that was debunked by the Home Office itself.
Stories written about the ‘Muslim problem’ or claims that ‘there is not enough Islamophobia in the Tory party’ are part of a consistent pattern where moral panics have been whipped up against the community. Research from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) in 2018 showed that most coverage of Muslims in the British media has had a negative slant, and is contributing to Islamophobia.
There have been a steady stream of complaints upheld against newspapers for inaccurate reporting against Muslims, often including false accusations of extremism. Gary Jones, editor of the Daily Express, has himself said that the paper helped create Islamophobic sentiment.
To therefore claim that it’s just ‘one or two examples’ or a ‘needle in the haystack’—as Ian Murray, now former executive director of the Society of Editors, did on the BBC when trying to defend the statement—smacks not only of gross ignorance, but of a state of denial.
Then again, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Murray thinks the media is the one institution in the country that doesn’t have a problem with racism. His privilege, embodied in the fact that he works in one of the most socially exclusive professions in the country, in which 80 percent of editors are privately schooled and only 0.2 percent are Black and 0.4 percent are Muslim, insulates him from the consequences of the inaccurate and bigoted reporting which most affects minority communities like my own.
Claims that one in five Muslims support ISIS—just another example of a story that needed correcting, which the Sun itself admitted was misleading—have empowered the likes of Tommy Robinson and Britain First, who led far-right demonstrations in my hometown of Luton. And it’s not only Muslims, of course – Nick Davies’ recent book Flat Earth News detailed how 64% of Black people shown in the Daily Mail were criminals, an appalling statistic which goes some way to evidencing the systemic bias against that community.
For some editors, printing a simple correction in a small box within the paper is the end of the matter – but for many minority communities the impact has been long-lasting. We’re the ones left to pick up the pieces, while others have the privilege of being able to ‘move on’.
Three billionaire families – the Murdochs, Rothermeres and Barclays – control an estimated 68% of national newspaper circulation. This estimate is based on imputed values for News UK, JPIMedia, City A.M. and Telegraph Media Group publications, as the four publishers have stopped reporting their circulation figures.
The top three companies, meanwhile, control an estimated 80% of national print circulation. This is a substantial increase in ownership concentration since 2015, when the share of the top three publishers stood at 71%.
Family ownership is also common in the magazine sector. The Bauer, Hearst and Burda families own the three largest publishers in the industry, controlling an estimated 31% of magazine circulation.