Finsbury Park Attack, Media Coverage and Media Law

[Opinion] The terror attack which took place near a mosque in London was described by Theresa May as “every bit as sickening” as other attacks, yet it will likely receive less media attention in the coming weeks. Why?

One thing must be made apparent immediately in the case of media coverage of the Finsbury Park terror attack, which is that the reduced coverage is absolutely nothing to do with inherent racist views in the media.

Rather, the attack and aftermath will receive less coverage because of one pivotal detail in the event, the fact that the suspect – since named as 47-year-old father-of-four and Cardiff-resident Darren Osborne – was not killed in the attack but rather arrested.

As such, due to the United Kingdom’s judicial system working on an innocent-until-proven-guilty system, there are strict media laws and regulations governing what can and cannot be published into the public domain.

The most significant of these restrictions are that there can be no publication of previous convictions or potentially biasing background information about the suspect during active proceedings – which occurred as soon as Mr Osborne was arrested and charged at the scene.

Any breach of these laws can leave journalists in contempt of court, meaning that they can face hefty fines and even jail sentences.

As such, it is unlikely that any major news publication will publish content that delves into the background and past life stories of Mr Osborne, at least not until the trial has been completed and he is formally sentenced. That may not happen for quite some time.

Similarly, publications will refer to the suspect as having been charged with attempted murder, and later terror offences, rather than directly calling him a terrorist. This is not because they believe that Mr Osborne is not a terrorist, but rather because the country’s media laws prevent them from doing so.

The main reason for these laws is that the UK media regulations see juries as being particularly weak and vulnerable to outside influences. As such, all measures are taken to protect the judicial process from any biases, including informing juries not to research any information about cases outside of the courtroom, but by also ensuring that media publications both do not publish any new material that has a genuine risk of biasing a case, but also temporarily take down any previously published material for the duration of the active proceedings.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the British public are not well-versed in the stringent regulations of UK media law – nor should they be expected to be – but that causes unfair suggestions of bias and racism in the press when these situations arise.

It can almost be guaranteed that no journalist working for a major publication would argue that the crimes that Mr Osborne is accused of committing are abhorrent, and no different or less horrific than the actions of the perpetrators of the London Bridge attack, or any other recent terror attacks.

He purportedly drove a rented van directly into a crowd of innocent people – a group of Muslims in this particular case – with the full intention of killing and injuring as many people as possible.

One person died, though it is unknown as to whether this was directly the result of the attack or due to a health condition since the man had already previously collapsed and was being assisted by others in the crowd, and nine other people were taken to hospital.

The attack bears striking resemble to the London Bridge attack, likely intentionally as a form of retaliatory attack, and appears to have been carried out by an individual that targeted people because they had a different religion and culture to the perpetrator’s own – the exact same situation as the London Bridge attackers, just with the religions reversed.

Should Mr Osborne be found guilty in a court of law of these crimes, which the evidence strongly suggests he will be, then he will be deemed a terrorist in the press and will have the same media treatment as the perpetrators of these other recent attacks. However, that coverage cannot be published until the outcome of Mr Osborne’s trial is completed, which will not occur in the immediate future, and so there will be significantly less coverage of this attack than others.

As such, it must absolutely be made clear to any accusations of injustice towards the media coverage of events – which will likely be inevitable, especially from the communities most directly affected – that this is because of one factor, which is not the race of the attacker but rather the fact that he survived the attack and was detained.

Categories: England, Opinion, United Kingdom

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