Saturday 18 February 2017

"France is burning"

(The title of this post is an echo of very similar {possibly identical} phrases I've seen elsewhere).

Over the past week I've read, again and again, complaints from commenters (on various sites) that the BBC has been seriously downplaying (to the point of ignoring) the violent riots in Paris and other French cities over the past fortnight, since the alleged assault/rape of a black man by French police.

After a few days of such complaints, someone spotted that the BBC website had reported the story but observed that the coverage had been hard to find. 

Googling confirms that the BBC did indeed report the story and that, interestingly, it was the BBC that got the scoop of an early interview with the alleged victim of the assault, Theo, back on 7 February (and probably fed the fury!). That appears to have been their first take on the story and it made some reference (at the end) to "unrest".

Then (as far as I can see) that was that until 12 February, when a short video report about the riots was posted. Another short video report on the riots followed on 13 February, accompanied by a longer 'proper' report

And that appears to be that for the BBC News website (so far). 

As for BBC One's daytime news bulletins (from Breakfast to News at Ten), using a very powerful search tool I've been given which finds any word on, say, BBC One (such as 'Paris'), I can pretty confidently say that there was nothing at all on BBC One's daytime news bulletins until Sunday 12 February's early evening news bulletin (where it got 26 seconds). 

The next appearance of the story was towards the end of BBC One's News at Ten on 15 February. This was the first full-scale report on a main BBC One news bulletin and came from the BBC's Paris correspondent Lucy Williamson. The following morning's BBC Breakfast also carried two 'news in brief' reports about the riots. 

And that (as far as I can see) is it for daytime BBC One: basically one full-length report (15 Feb) from Lucy Williamson on just one of the BBC's main news bulletins.

Here's a transcript of it:
Huw Edwards: Hundreds of people have taken to the streets of Paris this evening to show their support for a black youth worker who claims he was raped by police earlier this month. There's been growing tension in some of the city's suburbs since the 22-year-old was arrested and allegedly assaulted a fortnight ago. One police officer has been charged with rape and three others with assault. But as Lucy Williamson reports from Paris, the President's appeal for calm is not being heeded. 
Lucy Williamson: Anger is spreading along France's urban veins. Tonight, chants of "Police, rapists, murderers" rung out just south of the Sacre Coeur. This is a protest about power. The power of individuals, their community, the state. France has been living with it for years, but in the last fortnight the story of Theo's assault, in a rundown Paris suburb, has reignited it. There are long-standing divisions rising to the surface here. The deepest anger in these protests has come from different people who say they feel ignored and left behind, who feel that the French establishment is remote and those in power abusive, corrupt and self-serving. Amateur footage of Theo's arrest shows him being taken to the car, moments after allegedly being raped with a police baton. The police watchdog last week described it as a serious accident, not a deliberate rape. 
Theo: I haven't been able to sleep for the past five nights. The medication they give me isn't enough. It's a very difficult ordeal for me. 
Lucy Williamson: "It was quick", said a neighbour. "He was lying here. They were hitting and kicking him. They brought him here behind the wall because it's out of sight of the cameras." The names of other young men who died while being chased or arrested in the suburbs north of Paris are repeated like a mantra of mistrust in the police. 
Protester: They want us to just shut up, OK? They don't want us to express in any shape or form of protest, OK? And that's how I feel about it. It's not like they're here to protect us. They're just here to shut us down. 
Lucy WilliamsonOver the past two weeks, the protests have grown, spreading to Rouen, Lyon, Marseilles. This is no longer a case of one man, in one Paris suburb. It's a reminder of France's deep divisions, and a test of the trust between people and power. Lucy Williamson, BBC News, Paris.
So, yes, though it would be wrong to say that the BBC One has completely ignored the story it has certainly not given it any great prominence at all. If you didn't see that single late evening news bulletin, you'd probably have missed it completely. 

Why is the BBC's very low-key reporting of this story an issue with some people? From what I can see they are accusing the BBC of downplaying a story about the the violent thuggery of members of France's ethnic minorities (and, by some accounts, a specific religious minority in particular) - i.e. covering up the violent downsides of multiculturalism. (Marine le Pen has condemned the French political class for failing to tackle this 'thuggery'.) 

Well, it's certainly true that Lucy Williamson's report is very much in the liberal BBC tradition of reporting about such riots, airing the views of disgruntled minorities and casting them as the hard-done-to "people" pitted against the "power" of the French establishment. (The Marine le Pen point of view was entirely missing). The (elsewhere) much-cited violence is not something that Ms. Williamson reports, only the "anger".

Make of all of this what you will.

Update: And tonight, on the BBC website, appears:

Like Lucy Williamson's piece, this is entirely from the side of 'the aggrieved'. 


  1. One can imagine how these riots would be reported if they happened under a Le Pen administration. They would be front page of the website with lots of video reports, and lots of analysis. There would be lots of implied criticisms of the government - it would be argued it was teh government's policies that were producing the riots which were fully justified.

  2. We've seen this story before, haven't we? Last time there was a major run of violence and car burning, the narrative was that it was all justifiable grievances, poor dark-skinned Mohammedans being oppressed, marginalized, and brutalized by the racist French. Wasn't the last one started when - allegedly - some innocent young Mohammedan died during a police pursuit?


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