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‘When Articles Exclude Voices of People They’re About, It’s Dehumanising’ – UK’s Biggest Media Players are the Worst Offenders

Once you notice their silence, you can’t not hear it – introducing a new Byline Times column to accompany the new series of the hit podcast Media Storm

A new column exploring news that starts with the people who are normally asked last. Photo: Media Storm

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It’s 2024 and headlines about ‘illegal immigrants’ are a dime a dozen.

We’ve heard every conceivable opinion on crossing the Channel (and a few inconceivable ones). We know Suella Braverman dreams of deportation. We’ve heard from more folks in the Cabinet and Commons and Lords on this subject than should frankly exist.

We know what charity workers think, we know what macroeconomists think, we know what Bob from Dover thinks, we know what Bob’s granny’s dog’s left testicle thinks.

What we weirdly don’t know is what so-called ‘illegal immigrants’ think (we won’t call them ‘people’, as an editor once told us – that would confuse readers). Why is this? Probably because in all the articles now making bombastic fish and chip wrapping, almost zero actually quoted one.

So here’s a question: is that good journalism?

We asked a non-binary journalist on our Media Storm podcast how they felt about the fact that zero out of 300 articles on trans ‘issues’ published by The Times and Sunday Times in 2020 bylined a trans person. They joked that they weren’t sure they could comment: they had been banned from covering LGBTQ+ news at their previous employer as they were ‘part of that community’. Apparently, they couldn’t be ‘objective’. 

So trans people can’t cover trans issues, because to be trans is to be biased (at least when it comes to your own human rights).

‘Objectivity’ is the exclusive reserve of the white, Western, wealthy worldview. The tabula rasa onto which others superimpose their subjective ‘poor-me’ interpretation of events. Identity politics. Whereas white male politics is just politics. Thank goodness the majority of editors are MOWERs (male, oldish, white, educated, rich, and probably with lawns to mow). Otherwise imagine how biased our media would be.

This arbitrary wielding of ‘objectivity’ in the newsroom is like saying black journalists can’t report on racism against their communities. Or people raised singing God Save The Queen can’t report on the monarchy. And yet, our royal correspondents have names like ‘Rebecca English’, ‘Jonny Dymond’ and ‘Jennie Bond’ (not making this up). Boris Johnson can tumble between Parliament and the Telegraph. Nigel Farage can wrap his ramblings in the journalistic banner of GB News.

But homeless people, sex workers, prisoners, rape victims, Travellers, addicts (scroll through our podcast: the list goes on)… they can’t get a word in edgeways on the stories actually about them.

It’s peculiar how accustomed we are to this deafening silence.

Perhaps that’s because news outlets brandish ‘both sides’. We hear from those who are for, and those who are against. And what else is there?

The BBC has successfully earned the disdain of lefties and rightists while sustaining a global audience of almost a billion— it must be doing something right. But ‘both sides’ does not equal ‘all relevant sides’. Not every debate is 50:50; not every view is equal. Only some people are genuinely impacted, others think their ‘right to an opinion’ is an equally worthy stake. It’s not.

“You would never put a heart surgeon up in a debate against someone who’s literally never opened a medical textbook – and yet, that is what happens constantly [in the news],” Renée Bracey Sherman, an American abortion activist speaking on Media Storm after the overturning of Roe v Wade, told us.

As a woman who’d had an abortion, she was invited onto morning television to debate another woman who had regretted hers. “I want to be clear, I believe that people who have abortions, whether they regret them or not, are able to share their stories,” she told the podcast – she runs a platform called WeTestify where people can safely do so. But where she takes issue is framing the debate as if it’s 50:50 when research places it closer to 97:3 (in favour of those who don’t regret abortions).

“That’s actually just bad journalism.”


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It’s bad journalism because the absence of a voice is the denial of ‘right of reply’. It’s dehumanising. It allows you and your kind to be dubbed a ‘brainwashing cult’ (the Telegraph on transgender people) or a ‘doomed mindset’ (The Times on Travellers) or a ‘swarm’ (the Daily Mail – and several high-ranking ministers – on refugees). You couldn’t very well warn the public of a ‘swarm’ and then quote one of the entities within it! 

If you did, you might get something like this: “One of the most pervasive, effective, and ignorant ways of uniting people is creating a common enemy,” a silversmith, writer, and Syrian refugee told Media Storm. “It’s all about creating this fear that those ‘dangerous creatures’ are ‘invading us’.”

They identify a cynical reason for this exclusionary practice (beyond the inevitable and relatively innocent oversights of overworked, underpaid journalists): nothing sells like fear, and fear is cheap.

Those are pretty good profit margins – for politicians and the press. And so a marriage of convenience unfolds between the two, with ‘culture wars’ as their lovechild. Politicians conceive them, papers cover them. And boy, do they cover them. Or is it totally appropriate to call for moral panic because a shop in Cumbria stops selling golliwogs, and sexual deviants could be crossdressing in toilets to catch us on the sly?

Evidence-based policy and debate, on the other hand, are expensive. And boring. We could barely get through that sentence! Are you still with us?

If so, that’s where Media Storm comes in: on your podcast provider, and now, happily, every Friday in Byline Times.

In this column, we will pick apart the week’s hilarious headlines and try to find the facts behind the fearmongering. We will do so with the help of the most important and overlooked voices in the story: the people actually living it.

Like our new editors at Byline Times, we challenge media gatekeepers where they have fallen into step with the brokers of power. Media Storm is news that starts with the people who are normally asked last. And now, you know where to find us.

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