Archive for April, 2008

Economic hardship + media stoked resentment

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Thanks in part to the downturn in the economy, this week’s spat between the newspapers about whether the rise in immigration has led to a significant increase in crime, is more than an academic exercise.

It is one thing to demonise foreigners when economic conditions are good. It is something quite different to do so when they are bad (or going in that direction).

When times are bad, feelings of resentment towards other communities – particularly immigrants, are more likely to spill over into latent aggression. Tolerance of difference is likely to be lower, and anger is more likely to be directed at specific communities.

Which means that the current press battle is not just a fight over ACPO reports and statistics. An argument over whether to generalise about criminal behaviour on the basis of a small sample can quickly turn into an indictment of a whole ethnic or national group.

Take Harriet Sargeant’s piece, for example, in yesterday’s Daily Mail:

“Just under a third of those charged with a criminal offence in the capital last year were foreign. Jamaicans, Poles, Romanians and Lithuanians topped the list”

“Around a third of all sex offences and a half of all frauds in the London area are carried out by non-British citizens”

“Romanian gangs were behind an astonishing 80 to 85 per cent of cash machine crimes in Britain and responsible for a sharp rise in street violence, people-trafficking, prostitution, theft and fraud”

Notice that the first two of these examples are based only on London statistics (even though the main police complaints have come from outside London), and the last one, while starting specific, goes on to accuse Romanian gangs of virtually all rises in crime (despite the police report saying crime had actually fallen). But the impression one is left with, from these and other generalisations in Sargeant’s piece, is that anyone Romanian is a criminal and you should at all costs steer clear of foreigners.

Of course migration leads to change and upheaval. Any movement of people is bound to. But to create a narrative of ‘British good foreigner bad’; British do not commit crimes, foreigners do;’ is not simply inaccurate and misleading but dangerous.

There have been alot of recent comparisons between our current economic situation and the Great Depression following 1929. Perhaps it would be worth comparing not just our economic but our social situation. Economic hardship in 1930s Europe, combined with social resentment, didn’t just lead to unemployment and hunger, it led to violence and persecution, particularly of minorities.

Written by Martin Moore

April 18th, 2008 at 2:09 pm

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Until the day after…

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Ahh, spoke too soon. Here it is – the backlash:
Express ‘Migrants bring more crime’.
And it’s not a great surprise that James Slack has written negative pieces in the Mail given his back catalogue (for which see here)

Written by Martin Moore

April 17th, 2008 at 4:29 pm

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The missing crimewave that didn't hit the papers

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When Julie Spence said last September that influx of migrants to Cambridgeshire had ‘been coupled with an increase in drink-driving, knife carrying, and feuding’ few papers could resist splashing the story. ‘Migrant workers importing crime’ The Telegraph reported. ‘Rumanians carry out 1,000 crimes here in six months’ said the Daily Mail.

Many commentators then congratulated Spence for breaking the rules of political correctness, for ‘saying the unsayable’ (Minette Marrin) and rejoiced that ‘it might [now] be possible to have an informed and balanced debate about immigration without charges of racism being chucked around’ (Stephen Glover).

Following Spence’s report and the accompanying headlines the Association of Chief Police Officers launched an investigation. Understandably they wanted to know if Spence’s claims were true and, if so, if they applied to the whole country.

They discovered, we learnt today, that they weren’t true. The evidence, their report says, ‘does not support theories of a large scale crime wave generated through migration. In fact, crime has been falling across the country over the past year’.

And what coverage does this report get in the press? Well, The Guardian leads with it on the front page. The Telegraph has a straight report on page 10. And… and… that’s it. Nothing at all in the Mail. Nothing in the Express (though the paper finds space on page 22 to report that ’3 out of 4 UK Poles “will stay”‘). Nothing in the Times. Nor, curiously, in the Independent.

It’s a great shame not only that many papers will not report news that doesn’t fit their editorial line, but that they won’t even seek to challenge the study’s findings. If these papers really do believe there is a migrant crime wave then surely they should pore over this report and challenge it. Ignoring it suggests they are happier misleading their readers then rethinking their own position.

Written by Martin Moore

April 16th, 2008 at 10:45 am

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Still waiting for local community websites

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Today I find myself buried in Annex 8 of OFCOM’s Public Service Broadcasting Review trying to work if there’s a future for local news, community and social action on the web.

The wonderful thing about the internet is that OFCOM can publish as much as it likes without worrying about killing lots and lots of trees. The terrible thing about the internet is that OFCOM can publish as much as it likes without worrying about killing lots and lots of trees. You could spend days, weeks down here and never see the light of day.

Anyway, Annex 8 (which I found courtesy of a comment in the OFCOM PSB Blog – an awfully helpful new addition) is a very useful – if somewhat turgid – research report about public service content on the web (by MTM London for OFCOM). There’s plenty in it for people who want to know about the provision of stuff for children online, entertainment and health. But the bit I got interested in starts around page 37.

When it comes to local content – particularly community / social action, or news (outside major news organisations) there is, according to the report, precious little out there. There are exceptions of course – hyperlocal independent sites like Urban 75 (for Brixton) – but these are few and far between. ‘Local, regional and national sites’ the report says, ‘tend to have limited ambitions and low production values’.

And then there are the local newspaper sites. Unfortunately many of these are ‘heavily templated and homogenous between regions’ (p.38). Trinity Mirror is trying to break the mould slightly with its postcode project (e.g. see TS10 Redcar), though it’s unclear the extent to which this is a vehicle for news or for classified advertising (though you could argue this is the same for many local print papers).

It’s very difficult, in other words, to find successful examples of thriving local community sites (as compared to the US, say) and even harder to find examples of local sites performing the ‘watchdog role’ of the Fourth Estate (a role that appears conspicuously absent from OFCOMs definition of ‘public purposes’).

We already know that local broadcast news is in serious trouble (not least because OFCOM tells us it is), but going by this study it’ll be quite some time before local community sites can fill the gap.

Written by Martin Moore

April 14th, 2008 at 2:21 pm

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