I apologize for repeating this sobering anecdote, but – alas – it is relevant again.
When “Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Understand Religionwas released in 2008, several authors participated in a world tour around events related to the issues addressed in the book. An interesting — or disturbing — forum took place with journalism students at the multi-denominational university Media Convergence Institute in Bangalore, India.
The topic, of course, was how to improve religious news coverage in print and broadcast media. In a previous article — “Life and Death (and Faith) in India” — I noted:
I was struck by a consistent response from the audience, which I would estimate to be roughly 50% Hindu, 25% Muslim and 25% Christian. When asked what the biggest obstacle to accurate, mainstream coverage of religious events and trends is, the response from a young Muslim man was blunt. When our media covers religious news, he said, more people end up dying. Other students repeated this theme in our meetings.
In other words, when journalists cover religious stories, it only escalates conflict. They are best ignored or minimized, masking the nature of the conflicts behind phrases such as “community disputes” or saying that the events are caused by disputes over “culture” or “Indian values” .
Cover story WRONG and more people die, they said. But if you cover the story PRECISELY, even more people will die. Typically, editors and producers resorted to vague terms – “community violence” was common – to mask bloody sectarian divisions. Journalism is not an option for covering religious divisions in India.
With this in mind, consider the fog”word saladlanguage at the head of this recent BBC report on what was clearly sectarian rioting in East Leicester. This is from a web archive, as the story was later updated without explanation. The bottom line: The angles of religion in this story were too hot to mention.
Police and community leaders have called for calm after large numbers of people became involved in unrest in parts of East Leicester. Online footage shows hundreds of people, mostly men, filling the streets. …
It’s the last of a a series of disturbances broke out following a cricket match between India and Pakistan on August 28.
A major police operation will remain in the area for the next few days. … East Leicester community leaders were on the ground with officers and were calling for calm and encouraging people to return to their homes, the force added.
As often happens these days, a Substack release — see “SW1 Bitesize: The Leicester Riots 2022” – researched online and filled in the gaps in religion. For instance:
Police also reported there was footage of “a man lowering a flag outside a religious building on Melton Road”. But which communities and which religion?
A previous bbc history said 27 people had previously been arrested for another “series of troubles” which were also linked to the cricket match. They quoted the temporary police chief thanking the community for calling for calm, although again no one said which community.
Let’s keep reading. In the end, the answers to the basic questions were hiding in plain sight.
It’s long, but essential. The blitz of relevant URLs? It’s in the Substack room:
All this shyness seems very strange when anyone able to go to Twitter and search for ‘Leicester Muslim’ or ‘Leicester Hindu’ will quickly find a wide range of videos which will quickly reveal that it was a sectarian riot between these two groups. Using these videos, the timeline becomes clearer:
* The events began with a crowd of Hindu protesters, who were filmed walking down the road singing sectarian slogans. In some pictures they are clearly singing “Jai Shree Ram”. Although it can be used as a greeting, during the last years it was used by Hindu lynch mobs in India. There was complaints some Hindus may have traveled from London to join the protest, although this is unconfirmed.
* In response to this, Muslim protesters quickly gathered and crowds formed to attack the Hindus. They managed to trap Hindu protesters in a small area, with police lines protecting them and separating the crowds. On the videos, Muslims can be heard blaming a minority of Hindu extremists, who they say hate Muslims.
* As the night descended and the two crowds remained kept away by a lot of police, more and more young men came to join. Groups of Muslims would have been coming from everywhere the West Midlands, while voices within the crowd called for more reinforcements. Footage shows Muslim men chanting “Allahu Akbar” and “Takbir”expressions often but not exclusively associated with jihadists.
Officials expressed concern that “far-right” groups would profit from reporting on the riots. The logic, of course, is that conservatives oppose “multiculturalism” and therefore make it difficult for journalists to “safely” report on such clashes between ethnic and religious groups.
However, the BBC producers ultimately decided to update the report with some pertinent facts. Here is the top of the update (with previous version removed). The lede still talks about “community” issues, but the new second paragraph led to this discussion of what is clearly an ongoing issue:
Officers tried to hold back crowds amid tensions involving mainly young men from sections of the Muslim and Hindu communities. Police said two arrests were made and the unrest broke out after “an unplanned protest”.
It’s the last of several incidents, including violence after a cricket match between India and Pakistan on August 28. A major police operation will remain in the area for the next few days.
Suleman Nagdi, from the Leicester-based Federation of Muslim Organisations, told the BBC: “What we have seen on the streets is very alarming.
“There have been problems in the community since the cricket match between India and Pakistan and although this match often sparks rallies, they have never gone so badly in the past.
“We need calm – the mess needs to stop and it needs to stop now. There are some very unhappy young men who have taken their toll.
“We have to get the message out that this has to stop and try to do that through parents and grandparents talking to their sons.”
Then there was this from a “community” leader, who is, in fact, a religious leader (I’ve combined the long quote into one block of text to save space):
Sanjiv Patel, who represents Hindu and Jain Temples in Leicester, said he was deeply saddened and shocked by the mess on Saturday night.
He said: “We’ve lived in harmony in the city for many decades, but over the past few weeks it’s been clear that there are things that need to be discussed around the table to bring out what people are up to. resorting to violence is not the way to deal with this.
“We are horrified and lament what happened (yesterday) and over the past two weeks. Throughout the Hindu and Jain community and with our Muslim brothers and sisters and leaders, we constantly say ‘calm minds, calm heads’ .”
He warned people to beware of misinformation on social media.
Once again we see the mass media puzzle of our time. If mainstream newsrooms aren’t covering the facts in many crucial stories — or only reporting one side of the story, whether right or left — where are people supposed to go for coverage? , other than social media?
In this case, the smartphone videos provided a lot of information, but without context. Balance and context were once the domain of professional journalists. Right?
But were religious angles just too dangerous in this case? Perhaps East Leicester and other communities are now news markets demanding the rules seen in Bangalore and other strained environments in India?
I was just asking.
FIRST IMAGE : Cartoon image illustrating the concept of a “word salad”, found on FireAwayMarmot.com