Culture, Media and Sport Committee - Racism in FootballWritten evidence submitted by Stephen Rhodes

Summary

Take into consideration how misinformation is perpetuated online.

Consider how this can be recognised better when all sides communicate about the issue.

Consider how to best encourage sites that fall outside the remit of the editors code of practice to be more responsible.

Consider a voluntary code for the most prominent and respected sources of football discussion and partisan views.

1. I feel it is important to consider how all official communications surrounding charges related to racism are discussed. In the Suarez case for example, that would include the FA, the clubs and players. Communications by the relevant parties and institutions need to full and clear and show more restraint in instances such as with racial abuse. Liverpool’s statement after Suarez was banned for example was unclear in their objections to the findings but still suggested a conspiracy within the FA and in a way to carry on the issue and inflame the situation. More specifically though, I feel the enquiry should strongly consider the role of the internet and how any such communications should have an eye on what misinformation is most prevalent in the minds of the most ardent supporters

2. The internet is what informs football fans most, as misinformation can be spread effectively, widely and rapidly. Not only have there been incidents of racial abuse on sites such as twitter following racism cases (sometimes connected, sometimes unrelated), but because these issues are occurring in football, they are subject to strong partisan reactions and campaigns of misinformation are often undertaken in support of their particular side.

3. It should not only consider how to react to false rumours and conjecture on social networking sites, but also fan sites and inflammatory comments on articles generally. The mainstream media, bound by the editors code of practice is not the primary problem when analysing how fans justify themselves when vilifying an individual. This is most worrying when they feel incorrectly justified to vilify someone who has been cleared or supported by due process.

4. Fan sites and blogs of course are not bound by a code of practice and even if libellous are seldom deemed significant enough for action to be taken. Even so, partisan blogs are often the source for most misinformation and the most inflammatory views. Maybe an idea would be to have leading fansites and blogs voluntarily agree to a simple code of practice that still allows all manner of opinion but encourages them to be more careful over serious matters. Especially at times when what they publish would likely be used by fans to justify abuse, misconduct at matches or even criminal offences. In these instances they should show restraint and take extra care to not be inaccurate or misleading. And whereas many newspapers are careful to turn off or carefully moderate comments for articles that may garner extreme or inflammatory responses, football sites, blogs and fansites usually do not. This could also be something to look into if there was some kind of guidance for such sites outside of the editors code of practice but that still affect the tone of such issues extensively.

February 2012

Prepared 18th September 2012