Watching the UK in recent weeks ,you could be forgiven for thinking we are all under constant threat from terrorists, with Al-Qaeda cells ready to impose Sharia law at a moment’s notice.
From Glasgow to London (with some flooding in between) the media have warned that we must ‘be vigilant’, ‘stay calm’and ‘report anything suspicious’.
Following the most recent incident that took place outside a West End nightclub, the most comon response from bystanders to this ‘catastrophic incident’ was to say that they would be carrying on as normal. Social commentators pronounced this as a return to the great British spirit of the Blitz.
While the horror and destruction created by such incidents are distressing and often life altering for all those caught up in them, the world seemed altogether rather less terrified. It appears it was only the camera crews and reporters who were ‘shocked’ by the latest developments.
The media are now facing a new challenge. How best to report news to a country already desensitised to the words ‘terrorist’ and ‘bomb’.
In the search for high impact news, it is easy to tell a story of black-and-white choices: civilisation vs barbarity, radicalism vs fundamentalisation.
But still stories require simple cardboard cut-out characters. In order to make the story intelligible we reduce the people to one-dimensional figures: in short, to stereotypes.
We leave no space for the more searching questions: How has this extremism found a place in Britain? What can we better do to bring our communities together? But these might be the questions that will lead us to real solutions. While there have been many examples of balanced reporting and efforts have been made to better represent the views of ordinary people from ethnic minority communities, there is still much to be done.
When we the public hear about the Muslim community in the UK, it shouldn’t always be followed by the word extremist. Never before has the media had such a vital to play in fairly representing the people it serves. The majority of British Muslims were outraged by the recent attacks and they too deserve to be heard within the media.
Colleen Harris is director of communications at the Commission for Racial Equality