Sensationalising issues may harm the cause. Has the BBC been insensitive when dealing with racism in football in Ukraine and Poland on the eve of Euro 2012?

Racism in Ukrainian and Polish football has become a major cause of concern with the two countries due to host Euro 2012 from Friday. In this briefing for linksdar.org NICHOLAS MALTBY weighs the pros and cons of investigative journalism in the light of a BBC special report about racism in football in Ukraine and Poland and comes to the conclusion that showing only one side of an issue undermines the issue’s seriousness, because it prioritises a good story over an accurate one.

UEFA has come under scrutiny within the British press for allowing the tournament to take place in countries where racism and anti-Semitism have become widespread in football stadia. The historian Timothy Garton Ash, writing in the Guardian, said that, “any football fan with a darker skin should steer well clear of Ukrainian football hooligans”. The Chairman of the English FA, David Bernstein, said the English football’s administrative body has arranged contingency plans should racism break out during the tournament.

Last week, the BBC’s investigative documentary series, Panorama, aired an episode entitled “Stadiums of Hate” about the racism and anti-Semitism rife in the Polish and Ukranian national leagues. Footage showed black footballers having to endure monkey chants, fans being beaten up for having darker skin, and common anti-Semitic terrace chants and insignia recorded at games. Even if the footage depicts the only racism and anti-Semitism in the history of the Polish and Ukrainian leagues, it is disgraceful. Attempts to defend their respective national leagues from criticism calling them racist by Polish and Ukrainian authorities are ill judged. UEFA 2012 director Markiyan Lubivsky asked journalists to declare a “moratorium” on negative information about the tournament. For many viewers, witnessing the Panorama footage occurring in countries where whole populations of Jewish citizens were wiped out because of their ethnicity, Lubivsky’s suggestion will be deeply offensive. Sol Campbell, a former England captain who featured in the Panorama documentary, warned fans: “Stay at home, watch [the tournament] on TV. Don’t even risk [going]… because you could end up coming back in a coffin.” Lubivsky responded by saying that Campbell’s remarks were, “simply insulting and we do not know what the aim of this statement was.” Lubivsky’s remark does nothing to inspire confidence that the organisers of Euro 2012 are equipped to combat racism and anti-Semitism.

For all the irrefutable evidence of the Panorama documentary, its entirely one-sided depiction of racism and anti-Semitism in grounds across Ukraine and Poland was not responsible reportage. The whole episode was packaged in a way that verged on hypocrisy: depicting Ukraine as a land of Soviet otherness (look, for example, at the completely irrelevant use of Cyrillic letters to identify the country on geographical illustrations). It prioritised sensationalism at the expense of accuracy. It provided only perfunctory evidence of what Polish and Ukrainian authorities have done to fight back against racism in football. In the words of Polish football fan, Michał Zachodny (quoted in the Independent): “The BBC did not include statistics which reveal that over the last three years, out of 460,000 British visitors not even one have [sic] reported a racist incident in Poland.” Also according to Zachodny’s article, the documentary decided against including footage of the Jewish Polonia Warsaw player, Aviram Baruchyan, who was recorded saying that he has not experienced anti-Semitism in Poland.

Showing only one side of an issue undermines the issue’s seriousness, because it prioritises a good story over an accurate one. Part of the duty in combating racist football hooliganism is to expose it, the other is to nurture and support the organisations that fight it. The Panorama documentary fulfilled only the first part of this duty.

source: This background briefing is prepared for www.links-dar.org by Nicholas Maltby