Sensationalist media contribute to creating social tensions during the pandemic
COVID-19 has brought to light the major inequalities that exist within our society, in particular the disproportionate effect on BAME communities. The media and government have been responsible for creating scapegoats out of minorities in the rise of cases through baseless allegations. The UK government’s inadequate response to the outbreak has led to an online cesspool of racism and islamophobia.
East Asians have been subjected to xenophobic violence and discrimination associated to the pandemic. Following the initial stages of COVID-19 the UK saw a 21% rise of anti – Asian hate crimes. Both the media and politicians have racialised the virus, referring to it as the ‘Wuhan virus’ or the ‘Chinese virus’ inciting anti- Asian sentiment in society. Earlier this year Vietnamese curator, An Nguyen, was dropped by an exhibitor at a UK art fair. A screenshot on of an email she received from Raquelle Azran, an art dealer, was posted on Twitter. Azran said her “presence on the stand would create hesitation on the part of the audience to enter the exhibition space” as “Asians are being seen as carriers of the virus.” Asians have been vilified because of fears of the virus and many have even been attacked. Jonathan Mok, an international student from Singapore, was attacked by two teenage boys as he was walking down Oxford Street. He posted photos of his injuries on Facebook and told the BBC one of the boys shouted, “I don’t want your virus in my country.” Mainstream media have been using images of Asian people in masks for COVID coverage even when unrelated to the article. These visual racist tropes have exacerbated fears and promoted bigotry both online and offline.
There has also been a slew of Islamophobic rhetoric. Craig Whittaker, Conservative MP for Calder Valley, West Yorkshire, told LBC radio that were “sections of our community that are just not taking the pandemic seriously.” When asked if he was referring to the Muslim community he said, “Of course. If you look at the areas where we have seen rises, and cases, the vast majority, not by any stretch of the imagination all areas, it is the BME communities that are not taking this seriously enough.”
The BAME community constitutes only 13% of the UK population and are disproportionately affected by the virus as seen in a report by Public Health England. The report shows that people of BAME communities are at an increased risk to contracting the virus as they are more likely to live in “urban areas, in overcrowded households, in deprived areas, and have jobs that expose them to a higher risk.” A high proportion of key workers are from the BAME community, representing 48% of the health and social care sector and 54% of the food production, process and sale sector. The first 10 doctors to have died due to COVID have all been from BAME backgrounds and 63% of the first 106 deaths of NHS were BAME.
Andrew Pierce, journalist for the Daily Mail tweeted, “If families gather for holy month of Ramadan will there be a huge spike in COVID cases. Doctors are very worried.” This is just an example of many mainstream commentators whose baseless allegations have contributed to fermenting social tensions.
Amid announcements of a lockdown mosques all over the country closed and complied with the social distancing regulations set by the government. As a symptom of the government’s failure to contain coronavirus there have been many headlines similar to Pierce’s tweet with scapegoating narratives. The Times posted an article with a headline that read, “Experts fear a spike in UK coronavirus cases during Ramadan.”
Muslims all over the country modified their traditions and celebrations in order to comply with public health directives on social distancing. Although the government were determined to ban congregational activities, on VE day we saw live reporting of street parties that did not adhere to guidelines but were met with positive coverage as residents had a sing-along. It was an insult to many keyworkers who lost their lives on the ‘frontline.’
Just hours before Eid- Al-Adha, the government announced local lockdowns in areas of Northern England that had a spike in cases. However, this did not include the closure of pubs and restaurants. The restrictions that were published late evening banned people in the affected areas from mixing with other households, curtailing Eid celebrations. Matt Hancock’s Twitter announcement was criticised as contradictory, questions were raised on whether Christmas would be cancelled at 9pm on Christmas eve.
JAN Trust works nationally to encourage, empower and educate marginalised communities through a number of our projects and campaigns which combat issues such as extremism and hate crime. Find out more here.