Human Rights in the Media
This website is an attempt to compile examples of how UK media reports on human rights and other legal issues. It will include comment on current media stories, as well as previous corrections and clarifications that have been issued in relation to inaccurate media reports.
As with any subject, the media plays a significant role in determining how the public perceives human rights and our legal system. Public attitude towards any issue will depend on how the media portrays it. Unfortunately, British media has played a major role in creating myths about human rights and perpetuating those myths. It misleads the public and publishes factually and legally inaccurate articles. Whether intentional or reckless, such inaccurate articles deepen the negative public perception of human rights.
The media creates negative perceptions about human rights in several ways – blaming human rights for cases not related to human rights, failing to credit human rights when ‘good’ cases are in fact based on human rights, and portraying human rights as a foreign import imposed upon us by others.
The media has created a perception of “Us vs. Them”, i.e. the concept that no law-abiding individual would need to rely on human rights and anyone resorting to human rights must necessarily be in the wrong. The idea that human rights are just for asylum seekers, prisoners, “illegals”, “gypsies”, terror suspects, criminals and terrorists – all groups that must be hated. Therefore human rights, just like anything related to these groups, deserve to be hated too.
This not only creates hate and division in communities and animosity towards these groups, but discourages others from seeing human rights as something relevant or useful to them. This is not only obviously unfair on the individuals seeking human rights protection, but discourages others from exploring human rights options when in need.
Some of the inaccuracies may be the result of carelessness or poor research, but it is hard to believe that many such mistakes are not intentional. One such example is the conflation of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights. One does not need to be a legal expert to know these are separate entities. The media has capitalised on the increasing suspicion about the EU to create negative feeling about the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), despite there being no direct link between the two. ECtHR judgments are presented as “European diktats” or something imposed upon us by “Europe”. Similarly, judgments of the European Court of Justice, the EU’s court, are often described in terms that cause confusion as to its separation from the ECtHR. It seems incredible that any journalist writing about such matters would be unaware that these are two different courts, but even harder to believe that such errors are not spotted in the editorial process. Indeed, even when these points are raised with the newspaper and corrections published, the error will be repeated almost immediately.
This desire in the media to create hostility towards human rights leads them to complicate even straightforward human rights news. Unfortunately, it is also the case that the effect of such coverage is made worse by politicians and others. Rather than correcting the media and dispelling myths created by them, politicians often repeat and perpetuate those myths. Politicians also often feed into the anti-human rights narrative by criticising foreign judges and describing them as incompetent or unqualified, as well as attacking human rights judgments. This further deepens public feeling that judgments of these courts are substandard and should be defied.