Is it really a debate if the powerful don’t listen?
Last week, a few TSNers attended a seminar in Parliament organised by the Irish Traveller Movement of Britain [LINK], and chaired by Andrew George MP of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gypsy Roma and Travellers*. The event aimed at bringing journalists as well as ‘media execs’ into conversation with representatives of different Traveller communities. This is something that is all too rarely done, as the pervasiveness of racism in the media illustrates and the ITMB should be praised for holding such an event. Indeed the turnout was good. Unfortunately many who came from the Media didn’t seem to be particularly receptive to the idea.
But lets start at the beginning, Mike Doherty, the press officer for ITMB spoke about the submission they made to the Leveson inquiry here.
Doherty outlined six main points in which the Media are routinely racist in their reporting of Traveller, Roma and Romani Gypsies:
1. The linking of the Traveller ethnicity to crime.
2. The fact that the word ‘Gypsy’ seems to be news-worthy in itself- note the amount of inane stories in the Daily Mail simply because of ‘Gypsy’ involvement.
3. Incitement to racial hatred.
4. The failure to sanction offensive online posts in response to articles. The Basildon Echo comments section, as well as most others are full of bile, hatred and in many cases illegal incitements of racial hatred.
5. Capitalisation – Gypsy, Roma and Travellers are legally recognised ethnic minorities, and therefore should have capital letters as standard;
6. Complaints – under current laws, there is a right to pursue complaints about racism in terms of their effect on individuals, but not with regard to their effect on groups. This fails to recognise the collective and cumulative damage done to whole communities.
Also speaking were Tina and Bridy, Irish Travellers living in London, who highlighted the direct effects of the racist portrayal of Travellers in Channel 4’s Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. After years of gradually increasing respect for Travellers from the settled community, the audience were told how the series had “turned back the clock” resulting in abuse, name-calling and endless questions about dresses. More seriously, ITMB has received news from many Headteachers concerned with the increase in bullying and levels of sexual assault against Traveller girls in schools. This is a direct result of BFGW’s sexualisation of Traveller girls, showing them as promiscuous objects of sexual desire, in complete contrast with Traveller culture. Even worse is the idea of ‘grabbing’, the completely made-up idea that ‘Gypsy’ men choose their partners by physically grabbing them.
Speakers Mike Jempson of MediaWise and solicitor David Enright also gave interesting presentations, on tackling racism in the press, and on the Big Fat Gypsy Wedding Billboards.
Then came the turn of Nick Hornby, Channel 4’s Commissioning Editor and the man responsible for BFGW to speak. Having heard from several speakers of the direct results of the show’s racism, Hornby brazenly defended the show and made no attempt to apologise or take on board the criticisms. It seemed he did not want to recognise the power or responsibility he held. I couldn’t help asking myself whether it was really a debate if those with the power don’t listen? Representatives of OFCOM and the Press Complaints Committee were also present, but were keen to point out that they worked to specific codes, which as other speakers pointed out, are not sufficient.
Where does this leave us? Fighting racism in the Media is undoubtedly a key battle, as it impacts attitudes and treatment of Travellers directly. We were told just as much at the seminar, even if the Media execs want to pretend otherwise. It seems that much more pressure on the Media at all levels is needed, from complaints, actions and legal cases against individual newspapers, to changes on a wider scale.
* A Big Fat Public Debate? Gypsies, Roma and Irish Travellers in the Media, Houses of Parliament, 19th June 2012.