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About media framing • (written by Brian Dean)

A Tale of Two Racisms

24 July 2012 – I intended to write about something called ‘moral licensing’, but the Daily Mail published something (on football racism) that deserves comment. This will probably interest those who’ve followed the John Terry & Luis Suarez cases, but I doubt it’ll interest anyone else, unfortunately. (The ‘moral licensing’ piece – which, in an odd way, is relevant to this – will follow in a few days).

I won’t rehash the Terry & Suarez cases (I’ll assume you know the details). There were some striking similarities between the cases, and some differences – eg process and burden of proof (more on that below). Also, the media coverage. Here’s what caught my eye in the Daily Mail yesterday (23/7/12):

John Terry piece, Daily Mail , 23/7/12

(There’s an online version of this on the Daily Mail site – scroll down past the main story).

It was written by Mail columnist Martin Samuel. The parts which caught my attention were these (my bold):

  • “To brand a man a racist requires only a balance of probability, according to the FA.”
  • “…his outdated ideas about a case needing to be proven.”
  • “Terry did not swing in a proper court, so now he will be tried in one with less exacting standards.”

So, to summarise: The FA’s “standards” in these matters aren’t as “exacting” as they could be. And, anyway, the newfangled “balance of probability” doesn’t establish proof, and it’s insufficient to “brand a man a racist”.

The UK media (en masse, including the Daily Mail) – took the exact reverse of this position over the FA’s “standards” on the Suarez case. “Balance of probability” was regarded as appropriate – yes, a lower burden of proof than “beyond reasonable doubt”, but just fine for the job. And quite sufficient to “brand a man a racist” (actually, “racial abuser”). As for “exacting standards”, the UK press fell over themselves to congratulate the FA on its 115-page Suarez report. Here’s what one fairly typical Guardian piece said about it:

The thoroughness, attention to detail and remarkable depth of the 115-page document […] a report that has prompted legal experts to talk about a document that is “appeal proof”. […] has brought a new meaning to the word transparency by revealing every last detail […] this extraordinary report… (Guardian, 1/1/2012)

This kind of gushing praise for the FA report was all over the newspapers, as was quick denunciation of those who criticised or questioned the FA panel’s verdict. Even before the FA released its delayed 115-page report, criticism of its verdict on Suarez – whether direct or implied – was framed by the UK media as “shameful“, as “confusing” the “zero tolerance messageon racism. When Suarez’s club (Liverpool) raised the issue of lack of evidence, etc, they were denounced as “beyond the pale“, “hypocritical“, and their actions viewed as a “constant undermining of the FA’s role“:

“Some of the words being used to describe the FA and its role in governance on these sort of issues, that is really beyond the pale.” (Piara Powar, BBC, 8/1/12)

(One of the things I learned about the fight against racism – from campaigners such as Piara Powar, Lord Ouseley, Sports editors at the Guardian, etc – was that it entails, indeed requires, an uncritical acceptance of “the FA and its role in goverance on these sort of issues”. I’d never realised this before, as the FA always seemed to me like a dubious assortment of inept old blokes in suits, with a rich history of unprogressive views and general cluelessness. But that’s what the UK media is for – to inform and educate).

Bandwagons, herd-mentality, etc

So, what about Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail – author of the above critical remarks about the FA’s “standards”, etc (in the context of the John Terry case).  Surely he, of all people, didn’t jump on the hack-bandwagon – praising the FA’s Suarez report and dismissing its critics? Actually, that’s exactly what he did. Here’s the damning evidence, from his Daily Mail column, 4/1/2012:

Martin Samuel on Suarez, Daily Mail, 4/1/12Burden of proof

The FA uses the civil “balance of probability” rule of proof. This generally means a lower burden of evidence required to “prove the matter” than applies in criminal cases.

Many journalists seem to forget that “balance of probability” is a flexible rule, and that the more serious the allegation, the greater the burden of evidence required to prove the matter. This is clearly stated in the FA panel’s 115-page report on the Suarez case (see paragraphs 76-80). Paragraph 80 states: “The FA accepts that the Charge against Mr Suarez is serious, as do we. It is for this reason that we have reminded ourselves that a greater burden of evidence is required to prove the Charge against Mr Suarez.”

Martin Samuel’s piece, above (on the Terry case), perhaps confuses the issue over “proof” and “standards” (depending on how you interpret his wording). “Balance of probability” doesn’t, in itself, imply “less exacting standards”. It implies a lower burden of evidence, which is not the same thing – it doesn’t mean a licence to be sloppy. In fact, on the Suarez case, the media seemed convinced that the “balance of probability” rule had been applied to the most exacting standards. (Close scrutiny of the FA panel’s report reveals that this wasn’t the case. The FA’s own prescription for stronger evidence – in accord with the seriousness of the allegations – seems to have been “forgotten” by the FA’s panel, and completely overlooked by the media. No direct evidence/witness testimony was submitted in the Suarez case. And so the ironies pile up…).

Please also see: the original piece I wrote exposing media falsehoods on the Suarez case: Media on Racism: Part 1 – Churnalism (this article “went viral” on social media, and has been read by several hundred thousand people to date).

Written by NewsFrames

July 24, 2012 at 1:16 am

24 Responses

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  1. Excellent work once again. Thanks for putting into words what many of us have thought about this stupid and frustrating media bandwagon. Someone should send those two Martin Samuel articles to Private Eye.

    Maria Thompson

    July 24, 2012 at 9:02 am

  2. The reality is that the Suarez and Terry cases have revealed the latent racism, xenophobia, and imperial sense of superiority that still exists in English society. Even anti-racist campaigners like Simon Wolley of OBV have invoked quasi-colonial arguments to criticise foreign players who live in England for not conforming to a civilised standard of humour deemed acceptable in England when in their respective countries.

    Joe of London

    July 24, 2012 at 10:09 am

  3. This is without doubt the best piece I have read on this whole sorry affair, journalist changing their over opinionated views with the change in the inclement weather – Martin Samuels being a prime example.
    It raises the possibility that Liverpool should have perhaps stood their ground & gone all the way with a challenge to the Suarez “Conviction” – As much as at the time the majority of us,including myself wanted this to be put to bed.
    I await with interest the result of any charges aimed at Chelsea Fc & indeed the response from Chelsea Football Club in its defence of Terry!!!

  4. If nothing else this helps to highlight again the problems that the FA disciplinary process and indeed the media coverage problems create for themselves. If the media want to have consistency and fairness for all the thing that needs to change (besides their own hypocrisy and potential latent racism) is the FA disciplinary process so that players, clubs and fans can have confidence in it’s transparency, fairness and the avoidance of any accusations of “kangaroo court”. The FA however it seems are very reluctant to change. Couple that with the 99% conviction rate for personal appearances in 2011 it highlights where the real need for change lies. The FA act as prosecution, judge and jury in the cases – it’s not currently independant other than a QC being part of the tribunal panel, the other two on the panel are FA nominated. What does this say about the fairness of the process ?

    A Ronny Mousse

    July 24, 2012 at 11:08 am

  5. great piece of work eye opener

    mark sharples

    July 24, 2012 at 2:46 pm

  6. Thanks for the kind comments. I didn’t think this piece would generate much interest, but it’s already had several thousand hits, in just a half a day (due to hundreds of people linking to it on Twitter). Hope it gets some reads from newspaper journalists…


    July 24, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    • Incredibly astute piece! You managed to highlight issues missed by nearly all writers i have indulged! The arguement that liverpool were not in a position to challenge the infallible FA borders on fascism in itself. The idea that the longer the dossier, the more fallible it is arguably relies on the assumption that there is no existing holistic epistemology accessible for those that study or think on those matters. One hopefully constructive criticism is that the final comment insinuates that the FA have any reason to be impartial- a notion that i think is further from the truth than perhaps sheer ineptitude would be (spoken as a lfc fan)


      July 30, 2012 at 5:30 pm

  7. I don’t see what the big deal is. So journalists (and in particular, sports journalists) are hypocrits. So, what’s new. How is that a surprise to anyone. And what bearing does it have on due process and the law? The bottom line is — were the FA right to bring a case against Suarez? Yes they were. Were their findings reasonable and credible based on their standards, rules and procedures? Yes they were. At the end of the day, that is ALL that matters. Bear in mind ALL players are governed by the same rules when they play the game. It’s strange that we’re castigating the FA when they haven’t even charged Terry yet, let alone carried out their own investigation. Give them a chance at least. What journalists think really is neither here nor there and seems to be the biased liverpool fans clutching at straws to justify their own double standards and bigotry in defending Suarez when he’s been found guilty. What journalists think matters very little to anyone with half a brain.

    Robert Kline

    July 24, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    • And you have probably 1/4 of a brain maybe ?


      July 24, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    • Errrm. Except that the FA findings were not reasonable by any stretch of the imagination. They came to the conclusion that the Suarez version sounded correct both culturally and liguistically, yet chose to go with Evra’s interpretation of what was said. Right-minded people the length of the country could see Suarez was stitched up, but can only air their feelings in pubs, amongst trusted mates or at home for fear of repercussions from their employers, a frenzied PC mob, or the local “do-badders”.
      The FA missed an opportunity to educate.

      Jim G

      July 24, 2012 at 11:55 pm

    • Not even Patrice Evra alleged that Suarez insulted him with a racial epithet 7 times, Robert. Nor did any witness – indeed, there were no witnesses to any racially motivated name calling. Suarez admitted one count of using a word that the FA found to be insulting and making reference to race, the context of that admission being that he claimed that outside the norms of Anglo-culture, to do as he did is neither insulting nor racist. So the FA panel had a case of sorts but the reasonableness of their procedures and findings are far from clear cut.

      The FA have had from October until July to prepare a reaction to the John Terry verdict, whether he would be found guilty or not. Given thatit is well established (from the FA’s own initial investigations also before they were suspended, one would assume) Terry has admitted using insulting language that makes reference to someone’s racial background, (obviously he disputes the context, as Suarez did) he certainly deserves a hearing from an ‘independent’ FA panel. Most likely in a hired conference room in some motorway hotel, as Suarez and Evra had. However, it is interesting that the FA have not yet publicly stated how they intend to proceed with his case, some 2 weeks after the civil verdict has been announced.

      Finally, you or I wouldn’t have a clue about the first detail in either the Suarez or Terry case if it wasn’t for journalism. That fact is clearly the whole point of this blog. The point is not whether any individual in any individual case is guilty or innocent but rather how faithfully and objectively any episode is reported upon.

  8. it leaves me speechless (almost) that someone can have the brass neck to put in print two pieces of work that are so at odds with each other and at the same time expect the public to nod their head in agreement at both pieces. i suppose if you are dead from the neck up you could, martin samuel is a hypocrite. no balance of probability about it.

    pete craven

    July 24, 2012 at 5:18 pm

  9. superb and insightful piece which articulates precisely the hypocricy of the FA and media.


    July 24, 2012 at 5:48 pm

  10. Good article, spot on to highlight double standards in the media. This whole thing will kick off again when the fa announce what they are going to do in relation to the Terry case.

    I read the whole 115 pages of the suarez report very carefully and there was no clear line from the evidence presented towards such an unequivocal conclusion.


    July 24, 2012 at 7:52 pm

  11. Quite ironic isn’t it that the 2 cases that show the FA’s inherent racism, xenophobia and bigotry to it greatest extent are the same 2 cases where they claim to be clamping down on racism!

    Interesting also that the “holier than tho” Piara Powar is the very same Piara Powar that called an Asian Liverpool fan a “coconut” (i.e. black on the outside but white on the inside) simply for failing to castigate Suarez without any evidence and with so much as an FA ruling either for, or against the man!

    Chris Gilbert

    July 24, 2012 at 8:46 pm

  12. Good piece, and you articulate some of my thoughts on the Suarez case exactly.
    I doubt there’s ever been a worse case (during peacetime) of an entire media presenting a completely one-sided point-of-view on an issue, completely lacking in any critical judgement and reasoned argument, right across the board (there was one, briefly, in the Daily Post, which quickly got taken down).
    The whole thing looked like a kind of mass intimidation campaign against LFC and anyone that didn’t back the idea that Suarez was a racist and deserved an 8-game ban. To describe someone as a “racist”, or the case as “racial abuse”, is wrong and misleading, done to sell papers and get hits on the website, as well as push the official FA line.
    The so-called “free press” failed on all counts in this instance, being used more like the official mouthpiece of the FA and the arbiters of “racial taste” in the establishment. Free press my backside, I bet the journos and editors involved in creating these dreadful articles spent weeks wiping the brown lipstick off their faces.
    And FTR, from what I’ve seen of him, Piara Power is a knobhead, and shouldn’t be taken seriously (he was a politician after all)

    The Scarlet Pimpernel

    July 24, 2012 at 10:29 pm

  13. Thank you for the excellent article! A very brave one amidst the unfortunate tide of hypocrisy in the country. It’s a real shame.
    Keep up the good work, continue to provide balanced article like this to keep the masses educated. I’ill keep an eye on this column from hereon. Cheers!


    July 25, 2012 at 1:13 am

  14. Great Piece.

    Regardless of personal opinions on who said what and who was guilty of what, the hypocrisy shown by the media in the two respective cases is embarrassing, and with regards to the Suarez case, so was the widespread acceptance from the public of everything the agenda-driven rags printed. Anyone who questioned the credibility of the verdict was merely dismissed as a racist-apologist.

    Jamie Hughes

    July 25, 2012 at 11:52 am

  15. Suarez was the sacrificial lamb used to cleanse the FA’s history in failing to address racism.
    His side of the story wasdismissed out of hand whereas Terry was given an easy ride by the press & wriggled out of his predicament with the most pathetic alibi ever.
    Both men admitted what they said, the difference being that Terry knew full well the impact of what he said.
    As for the handshake? Evra clearly lowered his hand in a spiteful attempt to make Suarez reach & thereby appear to stoop.

    Ian Hutchinson

    July 26, 2012 at 9:36 am

  16. Hang on, you mean Martin Samuel is a know-nothing, Bluto-looking, lie-mongering, hate-filled sack of fat useless lard with about half the intellect of a slug, but only half as handsome?

    Who knew??!!

    Oh wait… EVERYONE WHO ISN’T MARTIN SAMUEL, of course.

    Tom Ross

    July 28, 2012 at 1:49 am

  17. The main point of the above piece was the different media premises – and the starkly contrasting media framing – of the two cases (Terry & Suarez). With the Martin Samuel example, it’s obvious, but comparison of other newspapers shows interesting differences, too. For example, compare these two Guardian headlines:

    “Liverpool’s Luis Suárez charged with racism by the FA”

    “John Terry charged by FA with using abusive language”

    In fact, exactly the same charge was applied by the FA in both cases:

    “The FA’s statement, published on its official website on Wednesday evening, said: “It is alleged that Suárez used abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour towards Manchester United’s Patrice Evra contrary to FA rules. It is further alleged that this included a reference to the ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race of Patrice Evra.”

    “It is alleged that Terry used abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour towards Queens Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand, contrary to FA rules. It is further alleged that this included a reference to the ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race of Anton Ferdinand.”


    July 29, 2012 at 3:59 pm

  18. Just a brilliant article plain and simple the media decides if it wishes to defend or destroy a persons reputation, despite the fact both men of had the same charge brought against them.

    Laurence Rea

    July 29, 2012 at 4:49 pm

  19. Hey. Thanks for an excellent article.

    It’s hard to know whether the hypocrisy shown by this particular journalist is just plain ignorant or this is another one of these cases where the English “Sport Hero” gets a totally different treatment in the media (particularly).


    July 30, 2012 at 8:47 am

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