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We need a new media to tell the real news

United Kingdom
Human Rights

Rupert Murdoch, owner of media empire News Corporation. David Shankbone under a Creative Commons Licence

Over three quarters of the British press is now in the hands of five billionaires – all of whom are men.

It is no wonder that these super-rich (most of whom live outside the country and pay little tax) have little interest in challenging the status quo. To counter this status quo, groups such as Real Media and Occupy the Media Billionaires have started to emerge in Britain.

Real Media’s ‘Anti-Daily Mail week’ took place from 13-20 March, with posters and online memes turning the tabloid’s sensationalist headlines into satire.

The following week, another group, an offshoot from the movement Occupy Democracy, protested outside Rupert Murdoch’s headquarters at London Bridge. The event culminated in a people’s trial for the media mogul on 28 March.

These groups want to challenge the fact that most of the media landscape is populated by rightwing voices that vilify already marginalized groups – and benefit enormously from the general public not expressing their anger over the ever-growing wealth gap, public-sector cuts and fraud in the financial sector.

Real Media highlighted issues that are ignored or misrepresented by corporate media, such as inequality, climate change and privatization.

To coincide with the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on 21 March, the campaign focused on human rights and the arms industry-foreign policy nexus. In April, the group will be launching an aggregator website for alternative journalism.

‘We should be looking at the [above] issues, but they are blocked by the corporate media that instead diverts our attention to blaming immigrants, benefit claimants and other groups. This corporate capture threatens our democracy,’ says Kam Sandhu, spokesperson for Real Media.

‘We are presented with the vilification of some of the poorest sections of society as though they are the criminals, while injustice and corruption of unfathomable size is everyday business for banks and billionaires.’

Racism is indeed an important part of the divide-and-rule tactic of the corporate press; what they do not report is that there is a very different reality to immigration into Britain.

The reality is one of detention centres and private prisons – run by Serco, G4S and other transnationals –  where people end up without a trial and without having committed any other crime than wanting to live in a country where they are safe and can make a living.

In recent weeks, a wave of resistance has been growing in detention centres around the country.

Hundreds of detainees have been on hunger strike in protest at the conditions in Dungavel, Scotland and in Colnbrooke and Harmondsworth near Heathrow. The media blackout speaks volumes.

‘There has been a series of sexual abuse and violence in Yarl’s Wood and other centres against people coming to Britain for asylum, and there is a whole system of torture and abuse in the way authorities treat these people,’ Sandhu says.

‘Meanwhile, the media slants stuff against immigration and asylum – there is the rhetoric that asylum-seekers come here and live the life of Riley.’

Earlier this month, Channel 4 covered the widespread physical, emotional and sexual abuse by Serco security guards in Yarl’s Wood detention centre.

But ill-treatment has been reported since the opening of the women-only centre in 2001; even after the TV channel’s exposure prompted criticism from the opposition towards the Home Secretary and the sacking of two Serco employees, there has been no media follow-up.

This is not because of lack of information: many detainees want the outside world to know of their despair.

One of the ways detainees’ stories reach the outside world is the website Detained Voices, run by supporters outside the detention centres.

It publishes anonymous messages: ‘I’ve been in detention for 10 months. I went to bail 4 times, the judge refused me. This place is harder than prison, because in prison at least you know when you get out. But not in here! Some people have been detained for 2 to 3 years.’

‘Another woman who has been diagnosed with cervical cancer has been in Yarl’s Wood for almost six weeks. She is not getting any treatment and her condition is deteriorating to the point where she can barely walk.’

That these human rights abuses in private prisons are not considered a scandal, or even news, shows something is wrong with our press.

Instead of having a media that limits itself to occasionally revealing violence committed by employees of these centres – and which mostly acts as a propaganda machine for tougher immigration policy – we need to amplify the voices that stand up to the systemic violence.

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