TV review: Black and white facts, in colour

The News

In all the millions of words written and miles of tape shot about the Stephen Lawrence murder, who really tried to answer questions such as the following:

How widespread are the prejudice, incompetence and sheer indifference displayed by the police in their attempts to put Stephen Lawrence's murderers in jail - if that is what they were trying to do?

Are policemen unique or even unusual in our society in their attitudes to race? Making allowance for the special pressures of beat and canteen, can there be a racist police force in a non-racist society?

And how honestly and courageously have our vastly influential news media, including television news, reported the good, the bad and the plain terrifying in our race relations?

A BBC documentary, Why Stephen?, to be shown tonight, asks these questions. Presented by the near incomparable Charles Wheeler, the film takes an original approach, not just to be different, but because Wheeler has spent a lifetime learning that framing a question in a different way can evoke a revealing answer.

The usual question is: How could a nice boy like Stephen have been brutally murdered in our supposedly civilised capital? Wheeler's question was: Why did Stephen Lawrence's murder provoke outcry and soul-searching when so many racist attacks and murders never got within a mile of TV news bulletins? His death was the third in a brief time in the borough of Greenwich. And just before Stephen's death, another young black man, Rolan Adams, was murdered in almost precisely similar circumstances.

So, why Stephen? There are many answers, and the programme gave many of them and hinted at others. The family and friends of Rolan Adams tried to reach public opinion past the indifferent newsrooms by making their son's death a political issue. Trade unions marched with banners. Black militant leaders made strong speeches.

Stephen Lawrence's parents, in contrast, got the sympathy of the white public because they fitted a white stereotype of the "good", assimilated and unthreatening black family. Stephen's mother, Doreen, dismissed the cliche that she and her husband, Neville, were "dignified". Fair enough. But it is hardly surprising that the public responds more sympathetically to people who pay them the compliment of supposing that some, at least, of its members share basic human values than to those who denounce without distinction.

Accident played a part. The fact that the editor of the Daily Mail, of all our national newspapers the one most consistently unsympathetic to black people in the past, was an acquaintance of the Lawrence family might just have something to do with the Mail's shock splash naming Stephen's murderers - perhaps, it now emerges, wrongly.

Why Stephen? asked some good questions. Far more important, as Charles Wheeler would be the first to admit, is how television news reports the complicated, evolving relationships between Britain's white and non-white populations night in, night out.

At the best of times, the boredom threshold in newsrooms, and the level of civil courage, are low. National newspapers have hardly been more successful than the police in hiring non-white people. And television news is only just beginning to move beyond tokenism.

What we need is less comment, more information. The more TV journalists tear themselves away from their screens and report reality in Leeds and Lewisham, the better for the ratings, and for all of us.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future