Last month, we published a piece examining the coverage of the Black Lives Matter protests that rose up in the U.S. in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.
This was not just a U.S. protest, however. Protests emerged worldwide in solidarity with the movement, with the UK also reckoning with its own uncomfortable history as the protests hit cities across the countries in June. Here, we will look at the coverage of the worldwide protests through a UK lens, as well as examining some of the UK-specific narratives that emerged.
We’ll begin by looking at how the worldwide protests were covered by the UK press.
Most engaged Black Lives Matter articles in UK publications
In the UK, the Daily Mail was by far the most engaged of the top publications which covered the Black Lives Matter protests around the world, by a considerable distance.
Public interest in their content was high, with more than 32 million interactions (likes, shares, and comments) on articles written by the Mail about the Black Lives Matter movement. Their article on the killing of George Floyd was engaged with more than 7 million times, and their subsequent reporting of the aftermath and newly emergent video was shared widely on social media.
The BBC, The Independent, and The Guardian were the other publications that saw their content widely distributed and engaged with on different platforms. In terms of articles that saw the most interactions, unsurprisingly many of them came from the Daily Mail.
Seven of the ten most engaged articles over the course of the two months since the protests began came from the publisher, with most focused on George Floyd’s death and his family specifically. These included Kanye West offering to pay for his daughter’s college, the reaction of his family, and new information about the cop under whose watch he was killed.
The other publishers were more focused on the institutional reaction to the death, particularly that of the Trump administration. The Independent examined Trump’s comments that vicious dogs and ominous weapons would be unleashed on protestors, while an opinion piece from Robert Reich was interacted with more than a million times in The Guardian.
Only one article from UK publishers was focused on the UK itself, and that came from The Independent, and was about Scotland voting to suspend exports of tear gas, riot shields, and rubber bullets. As this was the only article about the UK to be among the most engaged from UK publications, we also limited our search to look only at articles that were specifically about events in the UK.
Most engaged Black Lives Matter articles about the UK
Limiting the search in this way painted a somewhat different picture. When approached this way it was The Independent and The BBC that captured the most public interest, with around 3 million engagements to each of the publishers’ content. The Daily Mail received significantly less engagement for its UK coverage than its global content.
The pressure on the UK government to ban exports of tear gas etc. was a focus of two of the articles, with Scotland voting to ban it as mentioned. There was also a significant conversation ongoing about statues, driven mostly by the statue of slave trader Edward Colston being torn from its plinth in Bristol and thrown in the sea.
This led to a broader discussion about the role of statues in British society, with Churchill and other historical figures being brought into the spotlight. It is outside the scope of this article due to the date range examined, but on the 15th of July a statue of Black Lives Matter protester Jen Reid with a fist raised in the air was erected where the Colston statue had once stood. It has since been removed by Bristol City Council, with stories of its appearance and removal both generating headlines and public interest once more.
Brands respond to UK BLM movement
Brands were also active in their support for anti-racism, and one in particular that was noteworthy was Yorkshire Tea.
Yorkshire Tea had already experienced something of a social media storm earlier in the year, when Chancellor Rishi Sunak tweeted a photo of himself making a round of teas for his team using the brand. Twitter users reacted angrily to the brand’s inadverdent association with the Conservative Party, which led to a protracted discussion on social media outrage, and ended with the tea brand urging Twitter users to try to be kind.
The tea brand, along with fellow tea producer PG Tips, once again found themselves the focus of a social media discussion at the beginning of June however, though this had a very different background and outcome.
When a Twitter user pointed out that they were glad the brand had not vocally supported the Black Lives Matter movement, the Twitter account for Yorkshire Tea responded saying “Please don’t buy our tea again. We’re taking some time to educate ourselves and plan proper action before we post. We stand against racism. #BlackLivesMatter”, making an unequivocal point of supporting the movement. PG Tips expressed their own “solidaritea” with the statement in replying to a user saying they would be boycotting Yorkshire Tea, urging them not to buy their tea either.
It is obvious then, that while coverage and the protests themselves were different in both countries, protests in the UK did cause a stir, especially with statues being taken down. For more on coverage of Black Lives Matter and other topics, you can sign up for our newsletters here.
Benedict Nicholson is the Managing Editor at NewsWhip. An Englishman in New York, he is interested in the intersection of PR, brands, and journalism, and the trends and innovation around that.
Email Benedict via firstname.lastname@example.org.