When I covered the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster and other major stories for the local press on Merseyside, it was still felt that the most accurate and representative reporting of events was the responsibility of journalists living and working in the area.
Your role was to cut through the rhetoric of politicians and myriad conflicting sources and cut to the real truth, both in terms of factual veracity and detail and the emotions and feelings expressed.
I monitored reports of the riots in my home borough of Haringey throughout the night (6/7 August), through the mental fog of a virus. Even though the haze of a temperature, I could sift the facts from the bluster and witnessed a mainstream media evidently unable to cover a major breaking story a couple of miles from their own newsrooms. The looting and unrest at Wood Green Shopping City is being reported in Japan….but still not in the UK at 11am on Sunday morning. And typing this at lunchtime I am still waiting for the first reports to pop up on the websites of the local papers.
Twelve hours into the story, we should be hearing the voices of protestors, the family of Mark Duggan, shopkeepers, councillors and countless people living and working on the streets of Haringey. None have so far been reported.
Twitter was the only reliable source overnight– startlingly accurate when mainstream news seemed to have a blackout on reporting the spread and the facts. In Wood Green, no police were in the area for hours and mainstream media failed to report widespread damage to shops, cars and looting despite bystanders frantically tweeting newsrooms with images and video. As the acting Met commissioner stated ‘categorically’ that there was no truth to reports of trouble in other areas, The Guardian’s Paul Lewis (on his trusty bike but too scared to take pictures openly) described hundreds of looters smashing shops and attacking bystanders. Sky News and the BBC withdrew their crews, shamefully unable to report such an important story except through the lens of the various police official statements. No journalist asked why it was that a protest ended in riot and chaos while actual criminals looted stores unopposed.
Earlier in the day, there were no reports of that protest started by members of the Duggan Family and their friends objecting to the lack of direct contact they have had from police about the shooting of Mark Duggan on Thursday. I can understand the national media ignoring that but when the local press can’t send a reporter down then that is shocking.
This morning, the mainstream media are reporting official sources only, prioritising the voices of politicians and the police. Tottenham MP David Lammy is blaming the inflagrations of violence and looting on troublemakers coming in from other areas, reducing a highly complex and historic situation to a neat media-friendly soundbite: “This is an attack on Tottenham”, thereby ensuring that his inflamed constituents have even less of a voice. Anyone with even a modicum of local cultural awareness would know that those ‘outsiders’ would barely dare to enter then zone, certainly not from neighbouring (rival) areas like Wood Green, Hackney or Finsbury Park. But the views of Lammy and the police will go unchecked and unverified by local reporters.
So far the MP for Hornsey and Wood Green Lynne Featherstone, along with her rival contenders, have remained silent, and it is not known if they have been approached.
If this is the level of reporting we get when conflict happens on our doorsteps then it should shed light on how unreliable reports must be coming from warzones.