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Divisive media coverage ‘fuels’ hate crimes, academics warn

Nick Duffy July 1, 2016

Academics have warned that media coverage and political discourse hold a large sway over the number of hate crimes.

The Prime Minister expressed concern on Wednesday after police data showed that reports of hate crime have risen 57 per cent in the aftermath of the EU referendum vote.

Though the majority of the surge comprises race and religion related incidents, hate crimes based on sexuality and gender identity are also up.

Professor Neil Chakraborti and Dr Stevie-Jade Hardy, from the Centre for Hate Studies at the University of Leicester, say the “toxic climate” surrounding the EU referendum debate has helped to “embolden” people to target those they regard as “different”.

Professor Chakraborti said: “One key difference in the recent spate of hate incidents is that this behaviour has been fuelled and legitimised by politicians and by the media.

“Hostility towards ‘difference’ was present before the EU referendum but may have been largely confined to conversations in private spaces.

“However, the toxic climate surrounding the referendum debate enabled this hostility to surface within political speeches, on front pages of newspapers and in everyday conversations within pubs, in classrooms and on social media platforms.

“The focus shifted from issues relating to EU membership to the one big issue for Britain: namely, ‘Them’.

“When ordinary people have a political mandate to blame those who are different for society’s ills then the shackles of human decency are stripped away.”

Dr Hardy added: “It is evident from the videos of hate incidents which have emerged over recent days that people now feel emboldened to decide who has the ‘right’ to live and work in Britain.

“For some it is now seen as acceptable to target men, women, children and elderly people for being an EU migrant, for being a British-born minority, for being who they are.”

The pair added:”Since the EU referendum result there has been a surge in reports of people encountering incidents of hate.

“Are such hate incidents a new phenomenon? Sadly, they are not.

“Our research has illustrated that hate-fuelled violence and hostility are ‘everyday’ experiences for thousands of people every year in Britain.

“It has highlighted the devastating emotional and physical damage caused by these acts, which can lead many to live in cycle of fear, isolation and depression. Perhaps most worryingly it has shown that many of these victims continue to suffer in silence.”

They added: “Collectively we all have a part to play in stamping out hate. If we witness a hate incident, let’s collectively condemn it, intervene or tell someone about it. If we see someone in distress, let’s offer our support and kindness. By responding with compassion we can all play a role in restoring Britain’s moral compass.”

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