News outlets have a responsibility to report events of major national and international significance in a neutral and sympathetic tone. Sadly, they don’t always manage this.
Last week, in the aftermath of the Plymouth, UK shooting that tragically claimed the lives of 5 innocent bystanders, I read an article in the Guardian newspaper that made me stop in my tracks.
The journalists in question, Steven Morris and Jonny Weeks, describing the neighbourhood where the attack took place, had this to say:
“The suburb of Keyham on a hill above the naval dockyard, where many homes fly St George flags, was shocked”.
At first glance, a reference to the national flag of England flying on houses in England, might not mean a lot to most readers, especially non-Brits. After all, here in Korea where I live, houses regularly display the national flag or ‘taegeukgi’ with no seeming implications other than a love for the motherland. But the fact the writers of a left-wing newspaper, with a predominantly middle-class readership, deemed it necessary to mention the profusion of St George crosses flying in the area is curious, and to my eyes, more than a little unsavoury.
According to David Barnett of The Independent Newspaper, the Union Flag and the St George Cross “have been tainted by association with the far-right. He goes onto say that “Nobody seems surprised any more to see some bull-headed idiot draped in the flag and performing a Nazi salute”.
Yes, the English flag has a bad rep. It has had for years, ever since I can remember. I cautiously watched England football matches in my youth, keen to distance myself whenever possible from the tough geezers waving St George crosses that I saw on TV, having had it drummed into me that they were probably racist thugs. I have always been aware of its links to hooliganism and the far right. I’ve seen it waved at EDL (English Defence League) rallies and tattooed on ‘dangerous’ looking blokes on building sites and in pubs. It is a symbol (fairly or not) of the white, working-class, poorly educated, right-wing. I know it, Morris and Weeks know it and so do their readers.
But was it really necessary to mention this tidbit of information in their write up? The scene was fraught. The people living in the vicinity of the attack were emotional, shocked, stunned. How could this have happened in quiet, close-knit Keyham of all places? People talking to the news cameras in tears, scared of another possible attack, worried about the safety of their kids. For the most part, decent, hard-working people. Poor people, in the midst of the aftermath of a hideous crime committed right on their doorsteps. So it stands to reason that the last thing needed at a time like this is to be tarred with the rancid brush of racism and intolerance for the sake of a few wry metropolitan sneers from middle-class Guardian readers in places like Islington and Clifton.
Knowing full well its widely held negative implications, why mention the St George flags at all? Couldn’t the writers have sufficed with something like “in the suburb of Keyham, a traditional working-class enclave” or something similar? Of course they could. But such plain language wouldn’t have allowed them to shoehorn in their snobbish, classist, metropolitan agenda, which does just as much in its own way to divide the country as the actions of some of the right-wing, working class.
I have zero time for racists. I am unlikely to ever fly the St George cross either at home or at a sporting event given its past negative implications and my own personal beliefs. However, I have to take exception to the way a blatant supercilious sociopolitical narrative was casually shoehorned into what should have been a sympathetic, neutral account of one of the most heinous crimes to have been committed on UK soil for a long time.