Hasan Suroor

LONDON: Britain's outspoken police chief Ian Blair has accused the British media of being "institutionally racist'' saying that newspapers paid more attention to white victims of crimes than those belonging to ethnic minorities such as Asians.

Sir Ian specifically cited two recent murders in London - one of a white lawyer and another of an Indian worker - and said that while both were equally gruesome it was the killing of the white man which got more media coverage.

"The death of the young lawyer was terrible, but an Asian man was dragged to his death, a (non-white) woman was chopped up in Lewisham, a chap shot dead in the head... they got a paragraph on page 97,'' he said.

The white lawyer Tom ap Rhys Pryce and the Indian worker Balbir Matharu were killed the same day. Pryce was stabbed to death near his house in north-west London while Matharu was killed by a gang when he tried to prevent them from stealing his car stereo in east London. They drove over him dragging him several yards. His body was later found lying by the roadside.

Sir Ian said that while police put the same amount of effort in investigating all crimes, the media routinely tended to highlight only those affecting white people.

"I actually believe the media is guilty of institutional racism in the way they report deaths,'' he said.

His remarks, seen as a riposte to accusations that the police are "institutionally racist'' as alleged in a report on the murder of an African teenager, provoked angry reaction from editors. They called his criticism "selective'' and insisted that their coverage of crime had nothing to do with the racial background of victims.

The head of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips, said a "blanket condemnation'' of the media was not helpful though he believed that newspapers could "do a great deal more to be even-handed'' in their reporting.