Football Hooliganism has been given plenty of attention in all forms of the media. One of the reasons why it has garnered such coverage is because it is apolitical and suits all political parties to condemn it. Furthermore, the violence and vitriol involved in acts of hooliganism are material that are easy to sell. In other words, the sensationalism inherent in news items of this sort interest audiences of different age groups and backgrounds. So one could argue that media’s extensive coverage of this phenomenon has more to do with marketing the media product rather than any upkeep of journalistic values. With this understanding one could also see the role of police in a different light. They could be perceived as agents in the content creation process, who contribute by giving information and video footage of hooligans. And since the media seldom question instances of police mistreatment of hooligans, they tend to act brashly and ruthlessly in controlling the mob. (Crawford, 2004, p.225) In this context, there is room to believe that both the media and police tend to react in excess to what the situation actually warrants. The rest of this essay will present points in support of this thesis.
One of the most courageous and vocal opponent of the way media tends to set aside ethics when it comes to garnering revenues is John Pilger. Pilger has dedicated his life to investigative journalism, which focuses on bringing out dissident views against abuse of power. In the United Kingdom, the biggest threat today is not so much from political power as it is from concentration of media ownership. Rupert Murdoch exemplifies fears of media monopoly in Britain and other countries of the Commonwealth. And upon his media empire’s entry in the British media scene, instances of reporting on football hooliganism has increased. (Sanhi, 2009, p.909) And many of the stories are so construed as to project miscreants (correctly or incorrectly) as heavy boozing, irresponsible, violent monsters. Pilger’s first-hand account of a personal acquaintance’ experience with his son amply illustrates this point:
“I met Eddie Spearritt in the Philharmonic pub, overlooking Liverpool. It was a few years after 96 Liverpool football fans had been crushed to death at Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield, on 15 April 1989. Eddie’s son, Adam, aged 14, died in his arms. The “main reason for the disaster”, Lord Justice Taylor subsequently reported, was the “failure” of the police, who had herded fans into a lethal pen. “As I lay in my hospital bed,” Eddie said, “the hospital staff kept the Sun away from me. It’s bad enough when you lose your 14-year-old son because you’re treating him to a football match. Nothing can be worse than that. But since then I’ve had to defend him against all the rubbish printed by the Sun about everyone there being a hooligan and drinking. There was no hooliganism. During 31 days of Lord Justice Taylor’s inquiry, no blame was attributed because of alcohol. Adam never touched it in his life.”” (John Pilger, 2009, p.14)
What this episode of journalistic misdemeanour’s shows is the total lack of respect for facts and disregard for the feelings of victims and their families. Pilger further brought to light that Kelvin MacKenzie (who is one of Murdoch’s favourite editors) was instrumental in creating largely fictitious accounts of hooliganism involving people such as Adam Spearritt. The brazenness with which such misinformation could be passed up as serious journalism can be difficult to believe. For example, MacKenzie was supposed to have written the following headlines in the coverage of this tragic event : “The Sun front page, scribbling “THE TRUTH” in huge letters. Beneath it, he wrote three subsidiary headlines: “Some fans picked pockets of victims” … “Some fans urinated on the brave cops” … “Some fans beat up PC giving kiss of life”. All of it was false; MacKenzie was banking on anti-Liverpool prejudice.” (John Pilger, 2009, p.14) So beneath the façade of presenting facts and evidences to the readership, major newspapers in Britain (led by The Sun) have indulged in deliberate misrepresentation of facts. This supports the stated thesis of this essay, namely, that media and police response to football hooliganism have been disproportionate to actual events.