The Daily Mail is actually driving communities apart

Sometimes, it's the little things that make all the difference. One of the most frustrating things about the Express's recent racist outburst about the number of ethnic minority babies born in Sheffield being a crisis was that most of the article was pretty much okay. Even so, the paper managed to take a report that said that things were fine in Sheffield and set out measures for keeping things that way, and turned it into a report that warned of simmering tensions about to boil over into rioting.

The Mail does something similar today in 'Billions spent on helping immigrants is actually driving communities apart' with the Commission on Integration and Cohesion report 'Our shared future' (which it wrongly refers to as being called 'Our Nation's Future).

*UPDATE* Since typing this up, I decided to check the article to make sure it still gave the Commission report the wrong title. Stupidly, I refreshed my screen without taking a screen dump or saving the html file - and the entire article's changed. It now has the headline '
Culture briefing packs will teach immigrants how to queue'. I'll have a look at this version in a second post, but it's useful to leave my first post up to show how the article has been further sexed up.

The report is pretty comprehensive and incredibly nuanced. Over and over again, it warns about making blanket judgements and makes sure to emphasise that things will work differently in different areas, with statements like:
That this work takes different forms in different local areas is in our view entirely right, and this report aims to set that out more clearly. Successive governments have sought to respond to the challenges outlined above at a national level, and it is right that they should have done so – indeed, we make recommendations in our report about how Government can respond in the future by creating national policy and shaping, as best it can, the tone and characteristics of national debate in this area.

But as the data in our report sets out, it has also become evident that communities in some parts of the country are more cohesive than others – with people in areas such as Stockport and Cambridge apparently positive about cohesion, but others in places along the M62 corridor and around the Wash feeling less optimistic. And these variations often seem to be the result of local characteristics, initiatives or political leadership – relying on a clear local vision (in Chesterfield, for example) or activities to address challenges head on.
The trouble is, that doesn't fit the Mail's overarching theme of reporting everything that's ever done that's even remotely connected to race or immigration is a total shambles. So instead of reporting the shades of grey this report mentions, and the important caveats it provides, the paper just pretends they're not there to crowbar the report into their world view.

The headline for instance is, as ever, complete rubbish. The report is about more than just helping immigrants, doesn't say that billions is spent helping them, and doesn't say that the money is necessarily driving communities apart. What it does say is that some approaches to helping all kinds of different groups are better than others, and that those should be favoured. It also very strongly emphasises that cohesion is broadly fine across the country, and is only a problem in a few areas, saying quite clearly:
79% of people agreed or strongly agreed that people of different backgrounds got on well in their local areas (very close to the Citizenship Survey figure of 80%)

Cohesion rates in areas ranged from 38% to 90% – but in only ten out of 387 areas was it under 60% [emphasis in the original]

So the whole idea of driving communities apart is a bit fanciful. As is the opening sentence, which says:
Councils were today found to be wasting billions of pounds on community policies that unwittingly fuel ethnic tensions.
The report doesn't say that at all. It never once uses the term 'ethnic tension'. It says that some programmes are better than others and should be favoured, but it doesn't call the money spent on any as a waste, nor does it imply that. Let's say a Council decides to fund an Irish Centre that gets pretty well used and does good work for the Irish people in the area, but it fuels the idea that the Irish are getting unfair preferential treatment. That doesn't mean the money was wasted, because the Centre's good work for the people who use it still counts for something. And why is the paper focusing solely on immigrants and ethnic tensions, when the report it's about actually talks about much more?

It carries the fanciful theme through to the next sentence:
A ground-breaking report said that thousands of drop- in centres for individual ethnic minority communities were simply keeping people apart.
It doesn't really say that. We're closer to what the report does say, but it doesn't make a blanket statement like that. It does draw attention to the fact that funding single groups can have a negative effect, but it does so with all sorts of caveats about how some will be okay.

The rest of the article follows the same template, saying things that are sort of accurate, but devoid of any of the nuance that is present in the report. There are one or two little inaccuracies, but nothing amazingly major of the sort we might expect from say, the Express covering something produced by Muslims. Or Sheffield City Council.

The thing is though, by the time the reader reaches this far, if they ever do, they've already been given a number of false impressions that will cloud the way they see the rest of the article, and these carry on throughout. These are:
  • That the report is specifically about immigration and ethnicity
  • That it is a 'damning report'
  • That it makes blanket judgements about things being a waste of money
  • That it specifies how much is spent
  • That it implies that any is wasted
  • That it states that things are driving people apart, or that anything has 'backfired'
It really is not a damning report at all. Anybody reading this without looking at the report itself, which will be most people since the paper gives the wrong bloody title, will have the idea that this report slams multicultural policy in the same way this newspaper does, but it really isn't. Sure, after having looked at it properly, there are things in it I might have issues with, but it really idoesn't much resemble the Mail's version of it. But that doesn't fit the Mail's prejudices, so it must be distorted.

There is something the report does say that the Mail ignores. The report says this:
Our MORI poll found that more than half of people (56%) feel that some groups in Britain get unfair priority when it comes to public services like housing, health services and schools. Fewer than one in seven (16%) actively disagreed with the statement.


But as our interim statement highlighted, this seems to be a stronger national than local perception (where locally only 25% feel that some groups get unfair priority).


MORI suggest that people’s national picture may come from the national media. Local views on the other hand may be based on personal experience or anecdotes told by friends, family or neighbours.
So, people tend to think that some groups are unfairly given priority over others, but just not where they live. This is probably because they get their view of what is going on nationally from sources like the Mail rather than direct experience. Now look at the Mail's headline for this article. I wonder why the paper never covered this bit.

There's also a big section about countering any myths that might get spread about the Councils' work, and how to work with the media. In it is this:
The national media often takes its responsibility for setting the tone of narratives around diversity and integration seriously. The Daily Mail was an important champion of Neville and Doreen Lawrence during and after the inquiry into their son’s death. And more recently, the Mirror and others have set out positive messages in the context of possible far right gains in local elections.
So far so good. Yay for the Mail for doing something good ten years ago. But then:
But they will always sell papers on the basis of what they know people want to hear – and that might mean stories about increased immigration, conflict or unfairness, or stories that are aimed to shock or enrage.
And the report goes on to detail how to target the local media to counter this.

It's no wonder the Mail ignores the whole myth busting section, and the necessity of handing out myth-busting packs, given the paper's role in the spreading of those myths.

Including in this article.

No comments: