Media Outrage is a Great Form Of Publicity

This week French footballer Nicolas Anelka of West Bromich Albion was handed a five-match ban by the FA for brandishing a ‘quenelle’ salute after scoring in a Premier League football match last December. According to The Bleacher Report, this whole episode has “rocked football”. This means Anelka’s actions have actually shuddered the whole footballing world to its very core. But what is a quenelle I hear your collective thoughts ask? Is it a new hairstyle? A euphemism for male genitalia or a radical form of ‘twerking’? Well I had no idea what a ‘quenelle’ was either until the sports media spotlighted it so publicly in the wake of Monsieur Anelka’s FA hearing.

For those who haven’t been informed via the recent media public service announcements on Sky Sports News, TalkSport radio and the BBC’s Match Of The Day and Football Focus programmes, a ‘quenelle’ is an inverted salute that is (to use disclaiming media parlance) ‘allegedly’ anti-Semitic.

Making insulting or indecent gestures during English Premier League (or perhaps I should use the more correct term – Barclay’s Premier League) football matches contravenes FA Rule E3(1). Worse still, as an FA spokesperson told CNN, what Anelka did was “… an aggravated breach, as defined in FA Rule E3(2), in that it included a reference to ethnic origin and/or race and/or religion or belief” [allegedly].

How to do the quenelle - you put your right hand up, your left hand out, you do it after scoring and it gets about.

How to do the quenelle – you put your right hand up, your left hand out, the media is outraged and it gets about.

So now myself along with millions of other people know something that we didn’t know a week ago. We know that there is more than one salute that can be used to insult the Jewish community. The other offensive salute we all know is the Nazi salute, an established anti-Semitic gesture that was brutally hacked into history by the barbaric actions of a delusional and psychopathic dictator called Hitler, who along with his army and the backing of the ruling classes of an entire nation, murdered millions of Jews and almost took over Europe during the Second World War. The quenelle on the other hand is a little know (until now) gesture invented by a little known (until now) French comedian called Dieudonne M’Bala. However, thanks to the media it is now etched into the minds of antagonistic anti-Semites the world over for future reference.

Exclusive: Dieudonne Breaks Silence On Quenelle

Anelka denies the FA charge, claiming that he made the gesture in support of Dieudonne with whom he is friends. But for one writer reporting in ‘Japan Today’ (yes, it has spread that far) Anelka is guilty by association for having “atrocious” taste in friends. Well that isn’t a crime. If it was then entire Western governments would be rounded up and locked away for their politically congenial allegiances to dictators guilty of pillaging public funds, torture, mass murder and any number of crimes against humanity (more later). However, some people in the media are arguing that Anelka is guilty because he deliberately made the gesture during a game that he knew was being televised in France where the quenelle is well known, thus proving that he intended to cause racial insult.

Anelka has been a prodigious goal-scoring talent throughout his illustrious and lucrative career, but he has seen better days – notably at (no offence West Brom) much bigger clubs like Arsenal, Real Madrid, Liverpool and Juventus. To suggest that he chose a specific game to make the gesture is also to suggest that he can score at will. This is pretty ridiculous when you consider that the quenelle salute came after he scored his first goal for West Brom since signing for the club last summer. However, the point here isn’t whether the gesture was intended to be deliberately insulting or inflammatory. Anelka – who is a practicing Muslim and a Black man – may very well have anti-Semitic sentiments. The point is, by highlighting his gesture so publicly, the sports and news media have quite literally given his [allegedly] racist insult a global platform and helped to promote his [allegedly] anti-Semitic message to a whole new audience. If his gesture was intended to insult and incite, he must be sat in his footballer’s mansion beaming with great satisfaction at the global spotlight the media have given to his [alleged] anti-Semitic cause.

I’m not supporting Anelka’s [alleged] racist agenda, nor would I support any racist propaganda. At the same time I’m not agreeing that Anelka had a racist agenda. He denies his gesture is racist but rather “anti establishment”, a claim that is supported by Dieudonne, the very man who invented the gesture. This contradiction in itself makes the whole story a little bemusing. The person who made the gesture says it wasn’t meant to be racist. The person who invented the gesture said it isn’t racist. That means that the media and the small group of people (a group that will undoubtedly be a lot larger since the media have promoted the issue) who have adopted the gesture as a symbolic racist epithet, are the people who have actually radicalised the gesture – this much is clear. So what did the press intend to achieve by giving this story so much publicity? Was it their obligation to ensure that the public’s right to know was satisfied?

Now I have isntructions I can be suitable outraged

Now I have instructions I can be suitably outraged.

First of all let’s get something clear – the media doesn’t really care about whether a footballer or any other sportsperson causes offence to any individual or group unless it impacts on their revenue. The media pays its salaries by the revenue it receives from advertising, so they only care about producing content that will draw attention to their newspapers, magazines, television programmes and websites. That much is a fact. Despite never being involved in any acts of violence or sex scandals in the past, Nicolas Anelka (dubbed by the media as ‘Le Sulk’) has often courted controversy throughout his career and people know who he is. Any story involving Anelka is going to draw attention, and make no mistake, that’s what the media outlets really care about. If their enthusiasm for this story was grounded in ethics then they would have thought about what was going to be achieved by bringing this hitherto unknown gesture to the forefront of the British public’s attention. They would have then come to the conclusion that it would be best to bury the story in the corner of the sports section somewhere and let the FA deal with Anelka quietly. However, the gesture would have no doubt caught the attention of someone somewhere via social media.

Despite what you may be led to believe about social media dictating what the media reports on, this is not true. The popular press and wider media control what the general public see, hear and to a large degree, think. They are more than capable of ‘burying’ a story if they believe it will harm them by offending their political allies or corporate paymasters. For example, prior to Ukraine and Poland hosting Euro 2012, there had been an outbreak of a “plague” in the Ukraine in 2009. I would have thought this detail was newsworthy, but the story got virtually no coverage by the popular Western media. Recently the scandal surrounding allegations that Franck Ribery – a married man and Muslim convert – had sex with an underage prostitute in 2009 only made a little ripple in the British press. Ribery was in the running for the Ballon d’Or and the trial was, somewhat conveniently, adjourned until 20th January 2014 – a week after the awards ceremony (Cristiano Ronaldo won by the way).

I’m a Manchester City fan, but I am under no illusions as to the motivation behind Sheik Mansour’s acquisition of my club. Why would Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi Nahyan Royal Family, want to spend billions on turning a mid-table Mancunian football club with a long history of calamitous failure but a huge fan base, into the biggest club in the world? I don’t think it’s because he loved Subbuteo as a kid. As David Conn of The Guardian points out, it is probably more to do with utilising the club to promote other UAE commercial interests when the oil cash cow of the Middle East finally runs dry, whilst at the same time deflecting from their countries poor human rights record.

Football is a global industry that inspires blind, irrational, passionate support from its supporters. Owners of successful football clubs have a global platform from which they can promote anything. Yet despite the FA’s commitment to ensuring club owners are “fit and proper”, the media has barely rippled the caftan of Sheik Mansour’s political affairs back home. Why would they? Well the Emirates Centre for Human Rights Trial Observation Report concluded that the 69 people convicted and detained without fair trial for petitioning for democratic reforms due to human rights abuses in the UAE ‘had been subjected to torture and denied basic safeguards of a fair trial’? And in the wake of the media support for Thomas Hitzlsperger when he revealed his homosexuality following his retirement from football, aren’t the media concerned that the owners of an English football club have laws in their own country that can lead to a sentence of death for homosexual activity?

The answer of course is, no. The scandal involving Ruport Murdoch’s News Of The World which resulted in The Levenson Enquiry clearly established that there is, and has been for some time, a mutually convenient relationship between press and parliament. Most of us acknowledge that parliament and corporate business also sleep in the same bed. So with the Mansour family plying billions into the British economy in the shape of large developments in Manchester and a £1.5 billion investment being plied into a deep water port development in London, despite David Cameron stating “On human rights, there are no no-go areas in this relationship” during his  delegation to the UAE to sell military hardware to Sheik Khalifa, it is no surprise that the British media aren’t really too keen to press the comparatively minor issue of human rights of people in another country.

When it comes to popular media, the public interest is only important in so much as how much of the public will be interested in the associated advertising. Issues that may impact on profit and the privileges afforded their organisations remain sacrosanct amongst the larger and more popular media outlets. Whilst some prickly issues will be reported on to maintain press credibility, how much they will be reported on will largely depend on how much the powers that be (corporate and political) actually want them to be reported. Therefore the press concentrates on palatable, relativey harmless and vacuously distracting celebrity news that the man in the street can digest without thinking too hard about it. If the readers think too hard about a story they fail to notice the message from the sponsors.

I think therefore I buy

I think therefore I buy

So Anelka and his [allegedly] racist quenelle gesture isn’t really the biggest story in sport and it certainly hasn’t “rocked football”. If anything has rocked football in recent weeks it is the rapid demise this season of the current Premier League Champions, the once mighty Manchester United. The only thing the media have achieved by blowing up the Anelka gesture story is to add something more to the vocabulary of racist offence. Essentially they have helped the very cause they purport to condemn. Now anti-Semites worldwide have another weapon of insult to hurl at people. Whilst Monsieur Anelka may have tossed a little racist dirt into the public arena (allegedly), thanks to the efforts of the media, his insult is now firmly cemented onto the global landscape. Meanwhile, Sheik Mansour and his family continue to preside over an Arab empire that denies many basic human rights. But hey, that doesn’t really matter because Manchester City are one of the biggest and most entertaining football teams in the world – and the media loves entertainment. Entertainment helps to sell advertising.

Further reading:

The Hidden Story of Sheik Mansour

*If you tire of the inane and politically biased ‘news’ you see in the usual newspapers and media channels such as Sky, Fox, CNN, BBC, ITV etc. There are several independent sources of news that regularly give a more balanced account of what is going on in your world, because it is your world. It doesn’t belong to a small group of wealthy men, despite what you are led to believe.
Try the links below for an alternative view on things:
www.upworthy.com
www.avaaz.org
www.thinkprogress.org
and for a little bit of satirical light relief…
www.thedailymash.co.uk
www.thepoke.co.uk

In Thine Own Image.

Research commissioned by Channel 4 and conducted by the Cumberbatch Research Group showed that during a sample of 368 hours of peak-time viewing in 2009, Ethnic Minority representation (those appearing on BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky One) accounted for just 10.2% of the overall output during this 368 hour period. This data also includes the possibility that some of the individuals counted as an ethnic minority were also counted on several occasions (Trevor McDonald on the news for example). Quite a sobering statistic until you consider that ethnic minority (dark skinned – this detail needs to be pointed out) groups only make up about 13% of the UK population – which may seem an unrealistic statistic if you live in the multicultural centres of one of the major cities in the UK – or Bradford. However, step outside of those areas and sightings of ethnic minorities are as rare as UFO’s. However, it’s the percentage of executives, producers, directors and the people who are at the creative and financial decision making level in the media that is most important. These figures would not even make a whole number.

At a seminar on the subject of increasing the number of ethnic minorities working in the media industry, a chief production executive at Red Productions (one of the UK’s most successful production companies in the 90’s) candidly explained that people instinctively “hire in their own image”. It might be a little unfair, but it made sense to me. However, it doesn’t matter what initiative is put in place to redress the disparity of ethnic minority representation in the arts and media, because what you look like has less to do with how you represent as what you think like. Racial representation is much more than colour, it’s about a shared experience by a minorities’ majority.

One thing statistics of Channel 4’s superficial type won’t reveal is that the few coloured faces representing within the media will not have been raised or educated in Hackney, Brixton, Moss Side, Toxteth or any lower class ethnic part of the country. They will have gone to the same schools, colleges and universities as their white middle class counterparts and identify more with them than they do with their wider ethnic groups. The UK isn’t as backward as the US on race. British society by and large accepts a little bit of colour. We fell in love with Trevor Mcdonald and Lenny Henry in the 80’s, embraced the superb collaboration of culture as reflected in music like ska, jungle, drum n bass and garage, and generally accepted that mixing is ok because it creates beautiful babies and stronger DNA. But that acceptance hasn’t quite permeated the corridors of power or the executive offices of the media where they still have a knee tremble at the idea of social and racial agitation. Now and historically Britain has always been much more apprehensive about cultural interference within its class system and that is where the real prejudice lies in British media.

Whilst the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s may have symbolically vilified ethnic minorities by colour representation, the culture of the lower classes has become more of a target in contemporary media since the 90’s. Fiction like Shameless and The Royle Family, and offensive reality TV like My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and Benefits Street that explore the lives of fringe sub-cultures, do not divide by racial lines, they divide by social class.

Representation is primarily about intention; what is the intention in the representation. That intention then depends on the viewpoint of the representative. QED – if the representatives have no empathy or legitimate understanding of the subject matter or audience they’re representing, then their message will reflect that. Politicians and their policies have proven that for eons. Objective reasoning is a rare quality, but when an appointed representative who is also intelligent and sufficiently clued up about the subject matter they’re representing has that quality, then irrespective of race, colour or creed, they can still do a good job. But objective reasoning is a rare quality in the arts and media where egos reign supreme.

Related:

White singers deserve the same scrutiny for sexism as Snoop Dogg

Jude and Sadie’s daughter in Ecstasy scare

The One Thing White Writers Get Away With, But Authors of Color Don’t

A Year in Review: The Top 10 Most Racist/Privileged Things White Feminists Did in 2013