Columnist

The media portrait of Luis Suarez

Si Steers takes a look at the British media’s handling of the Luis Suarez racism case.

So despite apologising for a ‘crime’ that he was charged for without out any proof, and serving out an eight match ban as punishment, it looks as though Luis Suarez will forever be tarnished by a disputed incident that would have been laughed out of court.

The relentless booing of Suarez during the Olympics has been an absolute disgrace; it is a stain on this country. The hatred towards Suarez has been driven by a hostile media that have been desperate to hang Suarez out to dry – it is easier to point the finger at a South American as being racist than it is one of your own.

Sections of the media believe they act as the moral compass for this country; that they have the right to ‘speak for the people’. The irony of the media acting as the moral compass is that as Leveson has exposed beyond any question – that integrity and morals in journalism do not exist.

I find it highly ironic that the Daily Mail can stand on its perch and point towards a foreign footballer as racist. I use the Mail as an example as Martin Samuel seems to take a different view on the issue of racism dependant on where the accused is from.

Cultural differences

The simple fact of the matter is this. On the streets of Uruguay (or most South American countries) the phrase “Por que Negro” is a common and accepted form of communication. In fact, there was an accusation against Lionel Messi recently for using the term Negro to address a team mate – but of course, those kind of things tend to slip under the media radar as it raises uncomfortable questions about our tolerance of other cultures.

On the streets of England if you were to address somebody as a “F**king Black C**t” you can assume that you will be in trouble – even in the context of ‘repeating it back’ – although you would assume that most people would hesitate before saying it.

Although some in the media believe that calling somebody an “F**king Black C**t” in English isn’t necessarily racist, whilst saying “Por que Negro” in Spanish qualifies you as a signed up member of the KKK.

The Suarez case should raise some uncomfortable questions in the media and this country in general. The witch hunt has been so hostile – why is that? I think one of the reasons is that Liverpool decided to stand behind Suarez and failed to bow down to the demands of the media – as is the ‘Liverpool Way’. Rather than accept that Suarez was guilty – the club backed the player and his case.

The Suarez case boiled down to ‘cultural differences’. That was quickly dismissed by both the media and the FA in a zero tolerance approach to language deemed ‘racial’ in this country. But it actually goes far deeper than that. The Suarez case is a classic example of the intolerance in this country to other cultures.

We like to think we are a multicultural and tolerant country, but are we really? Are we really deep down a staunchly conservative country – where foreign people are demonised if they don’t adapt to life in Britain? The fact that both the FA and media failed to listen – and that is the key word – on any level to Suarez case that in his culture attitudes to race are different – suggests to me the answer is possibly yes – at least in the ‘establishment’.

I am hesitant to use the word xenophobic as it is unfair to brand all journalists as the same; there are some very good sports journalists – some of whom do have valid observations about the Suarez case. Whilst I disagree for example with Martin Lipton on his view of the case – I do respect he has remained consistent in his view over the Terry case, and he has condemned the booing of Suarez – unlike a colleague who works at the same newspaper: the same colleague that condemned and branded the Anfield crowd as ‘racist’ for booing Patrice Evra.

Trial by media

Spot the difference: How The Guardian reported the Terry & Suarez cases – despite identical charges being handed to them by the FA.

It is a fair observation that the media had drawn its conclusions on the Suarez case before it went to ‘trial’ (if you can call it that). Suarez admission that he had used the word ‘Negro’ in a conversational exchange with Evra was all of the evidence that the media needed – regardless of any context.

The media smelt blood with Suarez – it was a welcome distraction from the Leveson enquiry and they wanted a carcass – the FA duly obliged. The likes of the Guardian and Mirror – who should both know better – led with headlines that said Suarez was either a racist / had been charged with racist language. Compare both headlines to the reporting of the Terry case where ‘insulting language’ seems to be the tone.

The great irony of the media witch hunt against Suarez is that it has left the FA with no option but to now charge John Terry under the same rules. Whilst Liverpool made errors during the process – it was the media that was leading the conversation throughout.

Liverpool was left in a position where they were reacting to a continual barrage of criticism. I think the naivety of both Suarez and Liverpool was exposed to maximum gain by the media – from Suarez initial admission that he had used the word ‘Negro’ despite zero evidence – to Liverpool’s belief that the FA would understand and accept that cultural nuances was a credible defence.

The fact is that Suarez was tried and found guilty before the case was even heard.

Summary

In my view, perhaps the difference in reporting of the Suarez / Terry cases is more to do with a media desperate to paint a picture that racism is something that happens outside of these shores. By condemning Terry, they would be condemning England. It is far easier to point the finger at a Uruguayan and make excuses for one of your own. That doesn’t just go for the media – it is relevant to each and every single person that boos Suarez because they believe what they have read in the paper.

That said, football is a game of passion and emotion, and Suarez is a footballer that does divide opinion. His game does court reaction at times – and he will never be a popular player with opposition fans. The very best players in the world all have that ‘edge’ – and they feed off the hatred. I think Suarez is one of those players.

But when all is said and done, Suarez is a relatively young footballer, and off the pitch a devote family man. I am sure he can take the hate, it comes with the job.

But both the media and supporters have to move on from the Evra incident – because this targeting of Suarez both in print, TV and in football stadiums does not do this country any favours. The likes of Ollie Holt may pat themselves on the back as being ‘tough on racism’ – where in fact, all it is doing is damaging the real fight against racism and reinforcing the perception to the rest of the world that we don’t like foreigners in Britain.

If the media want to take the moral high ground on racism – they have to be brave enough to look inwards and condemn those guilty in this country before trying to position the blame on cultures they know nothing about.

I hope that Suarez is strong enough to ignore the hatred – and that he uses it to become a better footballer. But the fact that he has been branded a racist by a kangaroo court against the backdrop of no evidence is an absolute travesty. And what makes it worse is that the media and football fans in this country continue to use it as a weapon against him.

The next time a South American player thinks about coming to England – I am sure that the treatment Suarez has received may make them think again.

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Professional communicator and fanatical Liverpool fan. I write for This is Anfield, Paul Tomkins (The Tomkins Times) and Liverpool FC.
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