by Shona Robinson-Edwards, PhD researcher and assistant lecturer in Criminology at Birmingham City University

January has seen a number of discussions relating to race and racialisation within the media. H&M’s decision to use an advertisement of a black child wearing a green hoodie with the words ‘Coolest Monkey in the Jungle’, received widespread criticism and rightly so. However, in a criminological context the discussion surrounding race, media and crime is focused to some extent on Channel 4’s recent drama Kiri.

The advertisement for Kiri caught my eye as early as December, a drama which centred around a missing girl, but this time it goes beyond the usual missing ‘ideal victim’ [1], who is usually white and from a middle class background. If we think back to the BBC’s The Missing, both episodes had what many would describe to be an ideal victim, someone seen as completely innocent, vulnerable and deserving of our sympathy when they become the victim of crime.

Stereotypical images of the ‘ideal victim’ form the basis of many drama series, as the ‘newsworthiness’ of particular crimes are reinforced [2, 3, 4]. In Kiri we see a young black girl, who is about to be officially fostered by a white family. Before Kiri is adopted, social worker Miriam Grayson arranges an unsupervised visit for Kiri with her birth grandfather and his second wife.

This drama raises important issues surrounding race, crime, social services and adoption.  To put this into context, in the UK 313,019 people went missing between 2011 and 2012 – the bulk of whom were children [5]. As such, there appears to be an interest around missing children especially in light of the Madeleine McCann case.  But to be critical, it is hard to remember the last ‘mainstream’ reporting of a missing young black child – ‘There is little to no coverage of non-white missing children, and lack of communal empathy’ [6]. In my life time a young black missing child has not received the status which has been afforded to the cases of Milly Dowler and Madeleine McCann.

Elizabeth Ogungbayibi, Precious Myles, Moses John – these are all names of missing black children, which many will not recognise. However we also need to move beyond race to explore the impact of other intersections such as, class, social status, family structure, and religion. How can these elements possibly be influential factors relating to ‘newsworthiness’? The under reporting of the disappearances of Patrick Warren and David Spencer, just 11 and 13, who went missing from Birmingham in 1996 and Aamina Khan, age 6 who went missing from Croydon in 2011, echoes this  very sentiment.  The impact of race, class and religion can arguably influence the media’s representation (or lack of it) when it relates to specific groups of people.

The drama Kiri presents a number of conflicts throughout – naivety; blame, guilt, and empathy are illustrated within the scenes. Miriam initially portrays a calm nature in relation to Kiri’s disappearance, constantly reassuring those around her that everything will be ok.  Crime, murder and abduction continue to be areas of discussion – the chilling moment Kiri’s body is found revealing her yellow scarf, was harrowing to say the least. The initial suspect is Kiri’s father, a black male, ex-offender – but this is not going to be a simple storyline, the twist and turns are bound to keep unravelling which I’m sure will keep the audience intrigued. With all this being said, the discussions surrounding social work, criminal justice, race, religion and adoption are important within the media, academia and beyond.

Shona Robinson-Edwards is a PhD researcher and assistant lecturer in Criminology at Birmingham City University. View our Criminology courses.

References

1 Christie, N. (1986) The ideal victim, in E. Fattah (ed.) From Crime Policy to Victim Policy. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

2 Ditton, J., & Duffy, J. (1983) Bias in the newspaper reporting of crime news. British Journal of Criminology, 23, 159–165.

3 Jewkes, Y. (2004) Media & Crime (3rd Edition). London: Sage.

4 Wykes, M. (2001) News, Crime and Culture. London: Pluto.

5 UK Missing Persons Bureau. (2012) Missing Persons: Data and Analysis, 2011-2012. [Pdf] London: UK Missing Persons Bureau.

6 Suleyman, C. (2017) Britain is still searching for Maddie – why don’t we care about missing children of colour? Available at http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/britain-still-searching-maddie-why-dont-we-care-about-missing-children-colour-1619635. [Accessed 16th January 2018].

Image credit: Channel 4

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