New Statesman | The reporting of India Chipchase’s murder shows the true extent of Britain’s rape culture

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Why India Chipchase? For the Sun, it must have been the booze: “Woman ‘drank six Jagerbombs in ten minutes on the night she was raped and murdered” went the tweet, for which the newspaper was rightly damned. India Chipchase is not dead because she had one boozy night. She’s dead because a man, Edward Tenniswood, picked her up outside a club when she was intoxicated and unresisting; because he took her to his home to rape her; and because having raped her, he choked her to death.

Still, why India Chipchase? Why, when we know (thanks to the diligent recording of the Counting Dead Women project) that a woman is killed by a man every 2.9 days in the UK, did this woman become the face on the front pages? Why did this trial, of all the trials of men who kill women, get so much coverage? Her murder was unusual because her murderer was a stranger to her – 68 per cent of female murder victims are killed by someone they know – but still, not that unusual. It happens about once every ten days, yet we don’t see 30-odd cases a year reported as extensively as India Chipchase’s.

So why her? What did the media see in her that made her the perfect victim? The grotesque answer is, the same things as the man who murdered her did.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

The Bath Chronicle: even better news

Sam Holliday’s column in the Bath Chronicle this week is the shining opposite to the report that originally got me all exercised: it’s thoughtful, impassioned – and best of all, it’s drawn from a hustings meeting he attended and reported on himself. The BNP candidate appeared alongside representatives of the English Democrats Party, Libertas and the Christian Party, but protests outside the venue stopped most of the participants (and the audience) from getting inside.

Holliday’s reflections on how well the debate and protest served democracy are excellent on their own. But the last section is strong stuff:

As for the BNP, well, it just left me deeply depressed. Unlike many of the protesters, I did hear the debate (because I believe you have to hear what people say before judging them) and the moment the party’s spokesperson tried to claim he wasn’t a racist but called black people “Negroes” was the moment I realised this party is wedded to racism – despite the fact that many of them now wear nice suits. Negroes is the language of the American Civil War and not 21st century British politics – and I felt chilled and angry.

BNP? Beyond Normal Politics.

Newspapers can afford to be partisan about the politics of hate, just as Holliday is here. It’s impressive journalism, and it’s put me back in the paper’s circulation figures.

Update: Tristan Cork (the reporter who turned BNP ideology into editorial in the first place) has a column up on the website which I should have noticed before: it seems to begin with self-justification but ends by telling you everything he missed out first time around.

No one likes to be called a racist

Not even the BNP. Which is why they’ve wrapped up their race hate message in a tissue-paper parcel of culture wars speak (with some BNP material aimed exploitatively at children) and done it so successfully that even some of their own candidates didn’t realise quite what they signed up for. Corinne Tovey-Jones, a BNP candidate in Worcester, says she was persuaded to join the BNP after her husband was made redundant, but after having her electoral statement rewritten to criticise the “anti-social behaviour” of “an unruly minority”, she has tried to withdraw her candidacy and is now asking people not to vote for her. She says:

I don’t want people thinking I’m racist when I’m not. My sister’s married to an Italian – how could I be? My mum and dad are religious – they don’t need the upset.

Of course, it’s a lot easier for people like Tovey-Jones to remain ignorant if the reporting they’re exposed to is the uninquisitive fluff I looked at last week rather than the sort of work the Manchester Evening News has been doing. MEN editor Peter Horrocks says:

We took the decision to expose more details on their policies and, when we tried to speak to the deputy leader, Simon Darby, to confirm the BNP’s manifesto in 2005, when it wanted all non-white Britons to leave the country, he essentially said ‘Yes’ but refused to talk about the issue any further. When you think about that, to try and suggest that in multi-cultural Britain we in effect ‘repatriate’ society, it’s just an outrage and we felt it right to bring details like that to our readers’ attention.

The BNP really don’t like having that sort of thing brought to anyone’s attention. In fact, they’re so unhappy with it, they’ve attempted to orchestrate a campaign against the  MEN’s advertisers. From the BNP’s email to supporters:

If enough people do this, the companies in question will moan and groan to the Manchester Evening News’ business directors, forcing a behavioural change vis-à-vis the editorial team and journalists. We are calling on all genuine British Nationalists to heed this call and complain to one of the companies.

The BNP knows that its views are unacceptable. They recognise that “racist” is one of the most dismally pejorative labels anyone can pick up, and they’ve made a distinct rhetorical choice to explicitly deny being racist while expounding policies based on tortuously-defined ethnic groupings. And in turn, that’s why it’s so important that journalists aren’t satisfied with the simplistic point and counterpoint journalism which lets falsehood glide through under cover of “balance”.

Obviously, I agree with the MEN’s stance – but more importantly than that, what they’re doing is good journalism because it gives their readers information they can’t get from the official source. Hopefully, the MEN’s advertiser’s will recognise the value of that, and the perfect worthlessness of bending to a marketplace of bitter bigots.

BNP reporting: the wrap-up at Liberal Conspiracy

Over at Liberal Conspiracy, I’ve wrapped up my recent adventures in local news:

The BNP is a repugnant, racist organisation that is somehow able to present itself as a legitimate political party despite having a leader with a conviction for distributing Holocast-denying literature, a London Assembly member who spouts made-up crime stories and a track-record of misogyny that could keep Jim Davidson in material for the rest of his life.

The BNP is detestable, and it knows as much – which is why the party has been making exerted attempts to rebrand itself, dressing up racism as a culture war and claiming to stand up for the white man on the street against political correctness, immigration, and all those other half-lit monsters that loom from the national press.

There’s a commonly-made argument that the BNP thrive on being ostracised, that presenting them as bigots is playing into their hands. This is rubbish, of course.

Read the rest at Liberal Conspiracy

My local paper’s racist friends

Edit 11 June 2009: the Bath Chronicle has resolved this issue. Please see this post on the further reporting that has been done.

They shouldn’t take the BNP’s ads, but how should papers report on the BNP? They’re a legal political entity (inexplicably, but there you are) and a matter of interest to your readership – both good arguments for publishing stories about them, and that’s before you get into the idea that it’s better to address their arguments publicly than drive them underground. So, let’s say you’re an editor with news items about the BNP’s council election campaigns and the controversy among the mainstream parties about how to engage in debate with a racist organisation. What are you going to do?

Well, how about definitely not doing what this week’s Bath Chronicle did on page nine:

"Mum, dad and son to stand for BNP"

Top story: “Mum, dad and son to stand for BNP”. Bottom story: “Meeting change to avert MEP hopefuls’ walkout”. Not featured: any response to the BNP’s policies, although the top piece helpfully informs us that the party “only lets white ethnic indigenous people join” – a catagory so meaningless it’s surely come straight from the BNP handbook.

From this page of newsprint, you’d get the impression that the BNP is some sort of loveable family concern squaring up to the grey suits of mainstream politics with a bit of underdog spirit. If you’re going to read about the repatriation policy or Nick Griffin’s criminal record, it won’t be in The Bath Chronicle. Sam Holliday, editor of the Chronicle (edit 11 June 2009 to remove email, as Sam has resolved this issue) has decided that his readers need to be informed about the jolly face of the BNP and not their despicable principles. The writer of the “Meeting change” story, Laura Tremelling (edit 20 May 2009: Laura would prefer that her email not appear here, although it is published in her byline in the paper) has spoken to representatives of Labour, the Tories, the Lib Dems and the Greens and either not questioned them – or not quoted them – on the specific reasons they refused to share a stage with a BNP candidate.

That’s lousy journalism anyway, barely adequate to the coverage of a flower show. But when the subject is the BNP, it’s lousy, tacitly racist journalism. I don’t have a local paper anymore.

Edit 20 May 2009 to clarify that Tremelling is only responsible for the “Meeting change” story. The family profile is uncredited.

Self-destruction and self-regulation

Earlier this week, I was blogging about the reporting of suicide. This weekend, Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science column is a much more thorough treatment of the same subject. On the 20 November last year, many UK newspapers carried a story taken from the Press Association about a death by suicide. Complaints were lodged with the PCC against 14 of these papers; 12 complaints were upheld; one of the reports found against was in the Telegraph, and this is the one Goldacre writes about:

“Man cut off own head with chainsaw” was the headline: “A man cut off his head with a chainsaw because he did not want to leave his repossessed home.” What followed this headline was not a news story: far from it. What the Telegraph published was a horrific, comprehensive, explicit, and detailed instruction manual.

In fact this information was so appallingly technical and instructive that after some discussion we have decided that the Guardian will not print it, even in the context of a critique. It gives truly staggering details on exactly what to buy, how to rig it up, how to use it, and even how to make things more comfortable while waiting for death to come.

I’ve read the article: if I was contemplating suicide and looking for a method, I now know everything necessary to copy this example. By the PCC’s own guidelines, it should never have been published. According to the PCC’s judgement, I shouldn’t be able to read it now:

[The Telegraph] suspended the article from its website following the contact from the PCC.

Which is funny, because I took this screengrab today (handbook bits blacked out):

Screengrab 28 March 2009

So, to review this cascade of twattery: the PCC has guidelines on how suicide should be reported. These guidelines were ignored in 12 cases. The PCC was especially critical of the manner in which the Telegraph‘s online article breached the code, and “expected that the situation would not be repeated”. Two months later, the material is still there and still extravagently explicit. Excellent self regulation there. Fearsome and authoritative as ever.

In the comments thread on the Bad Science blog, this was quickly dragged into freedom of speech bickering. “Freedom speech is not a zero sum game”, said one exasperated commentator: “Free speech and freedom of information is not freedom to shout about it.” This story could have been a news-in-brief. It could have excluded all the detailed instruction derived from the coroner’s report. It could have followed The Samaritans’ simple guidelines for reporting suicide in the least damaging way possible.

Not only did it fail on every particular, but the online article goes on to make things astonishingly worse. Have a look on the left at the “related articles” box: if death-by-chainsaw doesn’t appeal, a thoughtful Telegraph sub (or handy algorithm) has picked out five more power-tool and self-destruction related stories. How about making an exit via wild herbs? Hanging? Seriously, your suicide method could be just a click away, and the Telegraph‘s editorial policy is apparently to make sure you’ve got every detail you need to clinch your own fatality.