Has the way the Media framed Grenfell made Mainstream and Citizen Journalists Unite?

On the night of Tuesday 13th of June 2017, in a 24-storey housing building in West London, 72 people went to bed, not knowing that this night would be their last.

Within a few hours, just before 1am, Grenfell Tower was engulfed in flames. The fire was started by a Hotpoint fridge-freezer and it took firefighters nearly 24 hours to control the blaze. After 2 days of the tower burning, it was finally put out with the help of more than 250 firefighters.

72 people lost their lives that night and the 223 people who managed to escape effectively became homeless losing all their belongings. Three and a half years on and many of the victims of the fire still haven’t been re-homed.

After the fire, residents said they were continuously ignored by the council for years, bringing to light the dangerous living conditions they had lived in. But some of these issues were dealt with, carelessly and cheaply.

Instead of taking the correct precautions the Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) — the people in charge of managing the Grenfell Tower- covered the building in cheap, combustible cladding. This saved money but also was more appearance friendly. This in the councils view fixed the residents problems, but also made the building more appealing to fit the surrounding areas of luxury flats in North Kensington. This cheap solution however became costly. This cladding is believed to be the reason that the fire spread so quickly.

The cladding made the building more appealing to surrounding wealthier residents.

This fire has devastated so many people, with Grenfell still being so frequently acknowledged in media today. However, as it has been such a huge talking point in the media, this led to many different opinions, theories and views on what happened, how it happened and who was to blame.

Even though it dominated the media, in the early stages, it never represented the victims point of view and how they felt they were treated. It was not until stories broke out about the buildings safety regulations, that finally the views of the victims were bought to light.

What is Citizen Journalism?

A reason for news stories coming to light siding with the victims and stories of the cladding, is due to a large number of stories posted and written by the victims. ‘Citizen journalism’ (CJ) is a term used to describe this type of reporting. CJ is used to ‘give a voice to the voiceless’ and report on the public’s first-hand experiences. Using CJ gives opportunities to bring social change by bringing awareness to the public. Citizens are also in control of what can be written unlike in traditional media where gatekeepers filter the stories.

A reason why CJ was so important in getting the stories of victims out there, was because there was a huge number of ‘conspiracy theories’ to do with mainstream media’s reporting. A reason conspiracy theories started to emerge is due to the media’s continual lack of coverage on social issues, even more so with issues effecting minority groups and Grenfell was made up of a number of different and diverse minorities.

Furthermore, another reason why CJ was so important was because residents didn’t feel that they were getting the exposure they needed. Citizen organisations were set up and used in order to put the victims sides of the story across and The Grenfell Action Group (GAC) was pivotal in this.

What is Media Framing?

The British press were key in the story of Grenfell. However, having such a significant role in relaying issues to the public, the press can build a narrative and present certain issues in a different light — especially around politics.

This is called ‘media framing’. This is the way a news story is angled, through emphasising facts and stories, and presenting these events to form certain perspectives to influence agendas

Although Grenfell was not linked with politics at first and was framed as a tragedy. This later became the narrative when the stories of residents being ignored were reported and politics was seen as responsible. Media framing is used to control the discussion and ideas of people about a particular issue. There are many different types of framing, such a blame, response and tragedy, and the media can use different tools and techniques to do so.

Tragedy Framing

Mainstream media framed the Grenfell fire as a huge emotional event and emphasised the tragedy these people went through. One way they did this was through describing the turmoil residents went through while the building was burning. Residents were described as being ‘trapped’ and families were ‘desperate to escape’. The report also mentions people being in a frantic state, attempting to escape jumping from the tower.

Describing the desperate measures people went through in order to escape, indicates the trauma that unfolded. Accounts of hearing ‘a lot of screams’ and ‘thuds’ emphasises the sense of chaos, panic and drastic lengths that the residents went through.

While mainstream media dramatised the tragedy, citizen reports made stories more personal rather than gripping. Although mainstream did use first-hand accounts, the stories talk about the struggle and escape of the fire. Citizen journalism talked about these people as ‘friends and neighbours’. The reports written show the emotional turmoil these people went through, being written from someone who it has affected. With mainstream it is simply a relay of stories, telling public the panic. The stories written by the effected show the community that was destroyed through emotional anger. There is a sense of unity showing that the victims and people around them will not end the fight until justice has been served.

The unitedness of the repetition of ‘we’ shows that these people understand the pain, therefore resonating with the British public. The solidarity further demonstrates the allegiance and the fight they will continue, to stop the injustice. The passion shown through these reports makes the story more real and personal, as you can hear through the words how it has effected people, therefore having an emotional effect on the public. This emotional effect is relying on the hope to enrage the public and get them to join the victims in fighting for justice.

Social Media and Citizen Journalism

With so much uncertainty of the events that took place on the night of the Grenfell fire, social media was a key component in fighting for social change and justice. As citizen journalism didn’t have nearly the reach of audiences that mainstream media had, Twitter was a huge platform to reach wider audiences and get the message of injustice across.

Twitter became a huge platform for campaigning, with celebrities joining in and promoting the charities and organisations linked to the fire. The green heart has been a staple symbol in the campaigning and remembrance of Grenfell. It has become a symbol of hope and unity to remember those who were lost

The green heart has become a symbol for many people

The hashtag #Justice4Grenfell was key in getting the stories across to a wider audience. This is prominent as in an interview by Ishmael Blagrove, who started the #Justice4Grenfell campaign, he said that mainstream media had ‘dropped the ball’ due to eyewitness reporting beating mainstream media to the stories already, showing the power citizen reporting has.

Social media gave a mainstream platform for citizens which they didn’t quite have with their own reports. This challenged their marginalisation against the elite and take the conversation of Grenfell into their own hands.

However, with so much scope that social media bought this also created doubt, and conspiracy theories started to develop on what happened and who was involved in the devastation that night. This lead to a large amount of misinformation being spread online.

One of the biggest conspiracy theories was that many people claimed that the death toll of what the media had reported was untrue and that it was in fact higher. Due to the fire being KCTMO and the council’s fault, rumours were that they had covered up some of the deaths.

A video circulated of residents saying that firefighters found 40+ bodies in one room and that the authorities were ‘lying to us’.

https://twitter.com/search?q=%40Faysal_FreeGaza%3A%20If%20you%20want%20the%20truth%20about%20%23GrenfellTower%2C%20listen%20to%20the%20residents%20and%20eyewitnesses.%20Not%20the%20authorities&src=typed_query

One of the witnesses said, “If you want the real story you have to listen to the people that lived there.” This created a huge amount of mistrust between the public towards the media and the government.

However, the police did describe counting the death toll in an event like Grenfell as ‘impossible’ as it is an estimation based on evidence rather than fact.

Blame Framing

After a disaster, the media like to focus on who is responsible which can cause a narrative of conflict between groups in society.

When it came down to who was to blame for the fire, The Grenfell Action Group (GAC) immediately knew who to blame, the KCTMO and the council. GAC stated that KCTMO and the government had ‘ignored the advice of fire experts’ and also in other articles state a ‘culture of negligence’ implying this was a continued problem and that is why they are fighting for change to stop it from happening again.

With mainstream media usually taking the side of the dominant, it wouldn’t be a surprise that unlike citizen reports, politics would not be blamed for the events that, however this was not the case.

At the start, mainstream media’s assumptions were very vague and never placed the blame on leading organisations. This is clear from the accounts of mainstream media blaming firefighters. An article written by the Daily Mail suggested that firefighters were to blame, ordering residents to stay put.

This opposed the view of CJ who directly took to the council knowing they had previously ignored warnings.

Trapped — Residents were advised to stay put

However, pretty soon after the CJ accounts came to light, there was a strong narrative throughout many articles that the fire could have easily been prevented and therefore so many people’s lives could have been spared.

An article written by the BBC framed the fire as ‘murder’, that there was someone to blame and that it could have been prevented. This blame was directed to the government. An MP spoke out saying that families had been failed by democracy and that ‘[decisions]contributed to those deaths’. The use of ‘government’ and ‘murder’ in this articles indicated that it isn’t just the victims that hold blame on the government, it is the press and members of parliament too. The use of ‘murder’ also suggests that they are completely responsible for the deaths as after so many attempts of residents reaching out about safety, still nothing was done.

A Shift in Reporting

Many of the residents at Grenfell were from ethnic minorities which played a huge role in the way reports were framed. The representation of these groups in the media have historically been negative therefore this has contributed to a divide between mainstream media and citizen reporting. Not only are there ethnic divides but also class divides, with residents of Grenfell being from lower classes. This is contrary to the ruling classes, who usually influence and have authority over the media and who the media generally side with.

This case has been key in emphasising the divide between the government, citizens and media, and this has been emphasised by the different types of media reporting.

In citizen reports there are clear opposites in mentioning the power and wealth the government and council have. This is juxtaposed with the description of the poor conditions residents lived in and how they were disregarded and not cared for and how the wealthier estates down the road, were regarded more than the residents of Grenfell.

Divide between Kensington’s richest and poorest areas

This emphasises the class struggles these people went through, and how they were disregarded in order to benefit the rich. It is not just citizen reports, but also mainstream news. Mainstream articles have pointed out the divide between the rich and poor. The way they paint the story as unfair, highlights the injustice therefore framing the council as responsible for this tragedy.

Citizen media changed the way mainstream media was reporting, shifting from on the fence reporting, to giving a voice to the victims and encourage the public to fight for justice. Mainstream media also changed as the public inquiry began. They focused on what citizen journalism was focusing on all along, the council and governments failure to respond to the residents.

This was a key moment in the story of Grenfell as this spurred on the urgency for change needing to happen. Although the damage was already done with citizens going against the media, this created a sense of solidarity between the two, in challenging the government. This is still clear today as the media have reported that the government have blocked residents of cladding buildings in talking to the media.

When mainstream media shifted from a dramatised story of Grenfell to a more sever wider picture of social change, it forced governments to act. Although mainstream helped reach the governments due to the pressure they hold, it was still citizen reports that gave the voice to the people that needed to be heard.

A Sense of Change

You can see the positive impact citizen journalism has had on mainstream media, as the story has developed there has been a sense of solidarity between mainstream and citizen journalism. They have become one voice which has helped to highlight the marginalisation the residents of Grenfell and many other have endured.

Mainstream and citizen journalism have had important roles in the reporting of Grenfell Tower. While mainstream media in the beginning was story-telling, citizen media did more than that and gave a voice to the people of Grenfell who without them would not have been heard. However, although they did different roles, we have seen that mainstream and citizen journalism can come together and work together with each other to reach audiences needed for social change.

Although this is the case for Grenfell, there is still a long way for mainstream media to go to accurately reflect the views of the minority.