The Daily Mail and Stephen Lawrence

It’s nearly 25 years since the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence in Eltham, south London. His death has become a pivotal moment in race relations in the U.K. It has become, in retrospect, the moment when the country woke up to the shoddy justice available to people of colour. It prompted the MacPherson Inquiry which famously branded the Metropolitan Police as ‘institutionally racist’.
In the 25 years since the murder, the Daily Mail has claimed for itself a central role in bringing justice for Stephen Lawrence. Its campaigning is hailed as an example of public interest journalism, and is often cited as a refutation of the charge that the newspaper itself is inherently racist.
In an enlightening paper for Political Quarterly, Professor Brian Cathcart examined every word that the Daily Mail published on the Stephen Lawrence case. He suggests that the newspaper has systematically exaggerated its influence over the case. He’s written OpenDemocracy article summarises the main findings.
Cathcart begins that post, and the Political Quarterly paper itself, by noting that Prime Minister David Cameron cited the Daily Mail’s own narrative in his Leveson Inquiry evidence.
As an addendum to Brian’s article, it is worth highlighting the terms in which the Leveson Inquiry report itself discusses the Daily Mail‘s relationship to the Stephen Lawrence case. A search on The Leveson Report (As It Should Be), my open, accessible, searchable version of Lord Justice Leveson’s report, yields a few chapters where Stephen Lawrence’s name is mentioned alongside that of the newspaper.
First, in Part F, Chapter 2, Leveson rehearses the Daily Mail‘s own testimony of its reporting (specifically at paragraph 2.7 and paragraph 2.12).
Later however, (Part F, Chapter 6, paragraph 8.32) Leveson says this:

It is important to reiterate that the evidence was not all bad: there were many examples of titles with responsible and positive reporting on these issues, and even within the section of the press identified for criticism, there was evidence showing a complicated picture. For example, although the Daily Mail has been criticised for its reporting of some minority issues, its Stephen Lawrence campaign demonstrated a newspaper committed to tackling and condemning racism.

Emphasis added: Brain Cathcart’s contention is that the paper’s campaign was not ‘committed’ to tackling racism so much as a more nebulous problem of police inefficiency.
Later, in Part G, Chapter 3 of the report, Leveson highlights how the Daily Mail and other newspapers could actually have hampered the Lawrence investigation when the Metropolitan police re-opened the case in 2007. The paper published leaked information about the case that caused the Lawrence family to distrust the police. At paragraph 2.150, Leveson cites DCI Clive Driscoll’s worries that the reporting such as that performed by the Daily Mail “can undermine a good investigation.”
None of this suggests that the Daily Mail‘s campaign on this issue was a bad thing. But it does undermines the assertion made in a recent editorial that the paper “did more to improve race relations in this country than anything the Guardian has ever achieved” and the idea that its Stephen Lawrence campaign somehow atones for many years of publishing deeply divisive and unpleasant content.

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