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When riots rage, the media may be fanning the flames

One seasoned observer from LA is warning how much disorder feeds on press and TV attention

Worried about gangs? Anxious (like our supreme leader) to imbibe the wisdom of LA, where they know about these things? Then here’s Michael Genelin, once an assistant district attorney in charge of LA’s hardcore gang division, brooding on Britain for readers of the website Wrap.

“In some respects I blame the media for the intensity of the current riots,” he says. “They haven’t learned that the need for public attention by gang members is constant. And the more attention they get, the more they act out. Examples: Throwing gang signs is a gang member’s MO. He wants to be identified. Advertising through graffiti is another example of gang PR at work … and shouting gang identification during a gang attack is a common occurrence.

“Rioters are a gang. And when the media plays into their hands by building up their presence, building up their potency and threat, giving them interviews and television coverage only increases the ego boost they want from the world.”

What? Fleet Street and the BBC to blame as Hackney burns? It’s a novel explanation after two weeks of soul-searching. But what Genelin says about the self-regard and self-promotion of gangs may be a line drawn in the dust and rubble. He knows what he’s talking about. We need to know where the line between news and glorification lies. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds