Peace journalism AKA good local reporting

No journalists appear to have been covering Saturday’s march and protest by family and friends of Mark Duggan, the man who was shot in an altercation with armed police last week.

This lack of reporter presence means we will never have an unbiased account of what turned the apparently peaceful protest into a riot.

There have been many unconfirmed reports that Met Police officers used batons on a 16-year-old protestor. Meanwhile, the media are reporting official statements by police that a ‘small minority’ saw the protest as an opportunity to cause trouble.

Now reporters such as The Guardian’s Paul Lewis, who was one of only a very small number of journalists covering Haringey, are using Twitter to try to garner eyewitness accounts.

It was evident on Saturday night, when rioters attacked Sky and BBC satellite vans, that there is huge distrust for the media. Journalists, some claimed via social networking sites, might be evidence-gatherers for police seeking to arrest and prosecute.

Whatever citizens might think of the national media (let us not forget the biased, inflammatory and inaccurate coverage of the Broadwater Farm riots*), sensitive and responsible local journalism might have had an important role to play in averting this level of conflict and violence.

I am mindful of  Jake Lynch and Annabel McGoldrick’s assertion in their book, ‘Peace Journalism’ that “most coverage of conflict unwittingly fuels further violence.” Though they talk of conflicts overseas, their central argument that the media can be a force for moderation is highly applicable in any conflict situation. Some of their suggestions are actually what good local journalists ought to be doing – interviewing a wide range of characters rather than seeing it as one side versus the other, humanising all players rather than sensationalising or stereotyping, and allowing the aggrieved on all sides a voice.

The sheer lack of local coverage, bar unedited press release reproduction of official statements, shows that local journalists aren’t being tipped off to attend marches or get exclusive interviews with families. They are at best viewed with suspicion alongside the national media or, at worst, so detached and absent from the beats they are meant to embrace that local people don’t even know they are covering the area.

If ever the people of Haringey and, now, other inner city zones need a representative and active local media it’s now.

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