Bias in the Media; a Study of 3 Stories and the Issues I Found with Each One

As the title suggests I have taken issue with 3 seperate news stories from the UK and North America and want to explore this here.

Let’s start with Steubenville.

For those of you who don’t know, two young men aged 16 and 17 were recently convicted of raping a girl of 16 in Steubenville, Ohio. Not content with raping her, they carried her unconcious body around in a car and dragged her to parties, at which they also sexually assaulted her (in addition to the rapes), photographed her and even urinated on her. The two boys, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, have been found deliquent, which is essentially Ohio’s version of guilty for under-18s and they have been sentenced to a year in prison, although I am lead to believe that they could remain in prison beyond that year. It is a triumph for this poor girl who was abused so horribly and a wider triumph for rape victims everywhere: the boys are big-shot football heroes for their school in Steubenville and it can be notoriously difficult to obtain convictions for sports stars, even those who have yet to achieve nationwide fame. When the verdict was delivered the boys broke down in tears. And this was what CNN chose to focus on when they reported on the trial:

“a 16 year old, sobbing in court…what is the lasting effect of two young [men] being guilty in juvenile court of rape essentially?”

“incredibly difficult to watch as these two young men who had such promising futures, star football players, very good students literally watched as they believed their life fell apart”

“lives are destroyed…the most severe thing with these young men is being labeled as registered sex offenders…will haunt them for the rest of their lives”

Not one word about the victim. Not one word about how her life was destroyed or even affected by what had happened to her. What about her future? What about the fact that this attack will potentially haunt her for the rest of her life? What about the tears she cried?

The focus was entirely on these poor young men who had such high hopes for the future, and their lives had been ruined. Not once did any of their reporters comment on the fact that they had brought this upon themselves and perhaps other young men would think twice about ruining their futures in seeing these “star football players” and “very good students” get the judgement they deserved when they were found delinquent.

There is a petition here calling for CNN to apologise on air to the victim for their dreadful reporting of the situation and focus on the two boys, or the two rapists and registered sex offenders, if you want to be blunt.

 

My next gripe is one with our very own BBC, or rather with their hip and trendy branch of news aimed at teenagers and 18-24 year olds, Newsbeat. A study has been published by the DPP detailing the fact that false rape allegations are in fact quite rare, certainly much rarer than actual rapes. This is great news as one of the biggest setbacks for campaigns against violence against women and girls is the myths surrounding rape, of which the myth that most rape accusations are lies and falsehoods plays a huge role. This myth is so ingrained into our collective societal psyche that women are sometimes advised by the police to rethink their accusations when they pluck up the courage to report them. And one of the most common reasons for women not reporting the crime is a fear of not being believed. And let’s not forget that there is a very real threat that asking to retract a rape accusation can lead to the victims imprisonment, but hey, maybe she was just unlucky enough to have been raped first, then treated so badly by the people who were supposed to help her.

Back to Newsbeat. Rather than report on the study without bias, they chose to mention it under a headline screaming “False rape claims ‘devastating’ say wrongly accused”. They went on to describe the occurance as common, although after pressure they did change the word to unusual. I’m not entirely sure how they managed to confuse the word rare, as used by Keir Starmer, QC, who headed the study, with common, but at least they did change it. I personally complained about the article, citing bias and mis-reporting as my reasoning and I did receive a reply (the same on anyone who complained received I later learned) from Rod McKenzie, editor of Newsbeat. In the reply he wrote that the story had been commissioned to focus on the facts of being falsely accused as their target audience claimed to have a great fear of this happening to them, and that “to help contextualise the story we reported on a 17-month study carried out by the Crown Prosecution Service which set out to establish how common such false rape allegations were.” The fact that the study proved that false accusations are incredibly rare compared with accusations and even convictions of rape seemed to pass them by. Rather than using the study to say “hey teenagers and 18-24 year old guys who are scared that they will be accused of rape, worry not! It turns out women and girls aren’t going around lying about it constantly, like we once believed. Look, these figures show its really rare and in fact in those figures there are further breakdowns in terms of the gender of the accuser and the mental health of the accuser and hey, included in these findings are even accusations where the victim couldn’t identify her attacker, so rather than lying, she just couldn’t accuse accurately. Isn’t it great? Oh, and women and girls in the same age bracket who are afraid that if they are raped or sexually assaulted they won’t be believed if they go to the police, don’t sweat it. Chances are you’ll be telling the truth so we’ll believe you after all. Isn’t it a wonderful study and can’t we now move past this now broken down rape myth and focus on stopping this hideous crime from happening at all?” they chose to focus entirely on the very few men who are falsely accused every year and how awful it was for them.

Don’t get me wrong; being falsely accused of any crime is a crime in itself if done deliberately and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It must indeed be devastating and I’m sorry for anyone who has had it happen to them. But the timing of Newsbeats apparently long-comissioned story was very bad indeed and their manipulation of the facts was an insult to everyone who worked on the 17 month long study to make this report. For once we had some great news with regards to rape. I will keep harping on about it, but rape myths are a huge barrier to overcome and this one is a big one. Mumsnet have started a campaign simply entitled We Believe You to raise awareness about the truth about rape. Isn’t the name telling? We Believe You. I cannot say for sure if I would report a rape if it happened to me and I have the greatest respect for anyone who does. Certainly I have never reported a sexual assault, not even when the assault occured on school premises did I even tell a teacher. The BBC had a chance, as did every media outlet around, to report some good news about rape statistics. To reassure both sexes that false accusations are rarer than the myth would have us believe. And the BBC chose to stick their fingers in their ears and shut their eyes to ignore the findings in order to scaremonger.

 

Finally, we have the tragic tale of Lucy Meadows and I have another petition for your interest. This one calls for the Daily Mail to fire Richard Littlejohn after he wrote a hate-filled, biased article in the paper, against Nathan Upton, a transgender teacher. This was a total non-news worthy story. Nathan Upton made the courageous decision to alter his lifestyle and gender and this was seen as fair game to Richard Littlejohn. I have a link to the story in the DM, although you will see that it was edited on the 12th of March 2013 after being published on the 19th of December last year. The facts are that the C of E school in Lancashire announced via a newsletter that “Mr Upton has recently made a significant change in  his life and will be transitioning to live as a woman. After the Christmas break, she will return  to work as Miss Meadows.” Let me now just point out how fantastically supportive the school appeared to be and how lucky Lucy Meadows was to be working in such a tolerant place. I would be thrilled to send my children to such a school.

The DM latched onto the minority of parents who were bigoted concerned about the impact of this on their children and clearly didn’t see this as a fantastic oppotunity to teach about acceptance and everyone’s right to choose for their own lives. Naturally that would be too much to ask for the Daily Mail. Sadly however, this story prompted a media invasion into Lucys life and ultimately Lucy took her own life earlier this week. She had only been officially living as a woman for 3 months.

Now, it’s not the DMs fault that this story was picked up and became such an invasive beast…but then again…was it any of their business to pry into Lucys life like they did? How exactly was the story important enough to publish in a national newspaper? Lucy Meadows made a choice for her life and that was that. No one was harmed by her choice. She wasn’t trying to attract media attention. She was trying to live her life as she felt it needed to be lived. The school was supportive. A few parents weren’t happy, but there will always be small minded fools who cannot see past their own issues. Yet Richard Littlejohn chose to write a horrible piece about her, practically crying out “won’t somebody please think of the children?!” Children, the most universally tolerant beings in the human race until they get their parents views rubbing off on them. Richard Littlejohn could learn a lot from them.

 

My point this week (and I’m sorry its taken me so long to get to it) is that the media is a powerful tool. It does so much more than report on events, it directs us how to feel, which is why it is so important to read around in my opinion. I’ve tried to cram as many news outlets into this article as possible to try to be as fair as possible. In the case of CNN and Steubenville, this was rape apologising at its most dire. The BBC was a case of bias due to the angle they were driving at and a refusal to admit to a rape myth being just that. And the Daily Mail case was pure bigotry dressed up as concerned reporting and lead, directly or indirectly, to a womans suicide. I’m all for freedom of the press, but would the press please remember that they have an obligation to the public to report as fairly and without bias or personal views as possible. Here I have presented three cases of seriously bad reporting, due to the aforementioned obligations. Gavel!

Discuss…

 

 

*Please note that I do not believe in evil as a concept, so my tongue is firmly in my cheek when I use this turn of phrase.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ariane
    Mar 24, 2013 @ 15:14:02

    Very well-written and interesting piece. Thank you! 🙂

    Reply

  2. Charli
    Mar 24, 2013 @ 22:47:16

    Thank you for your comment. I really wasn’t sure what my topic would be this week until I was talking with my husband about these stories and suddenly I realised what I wanted to say.

    Reply

  3. Trackback: The Right To A Peaceful Protest | Gavel! Discuss...

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