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The Daily Mail

The Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday provided a highly critical perspective upon the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. Articles which appeared in the newspaper over the weekend of the 25th of March 2007 reacted against a number of perceived threats against the past, British institutions and Britain itself.

The direction of the articles concerning the abolition was firmly established with Isabel Wolf's article on Thomas Clarkson (23/03/2007: 38-41). Leading with the title, 'Wilberforce has been lionised as the man who outlawed slavery exactly 200 years ago. But, in a travesty of justice, the REAL hero's been cynically airbrushed from our history...' The large picture of enslaved individuals from Africa, taken from the film Amistad, would appear to indicate that the article might credit the enslaved themselves with the ending of the slave trade. The article however focuses on wresting the credit from one British abolitionist to another. Clarkson is celebrated as both a human rights campaigner but significantly as a British hero; 'quite simply, Thomas Clarkson was one of the greatest men in British history. Which makes it all the more remarkable that today his name, sadly, rings few bells.' The bicentenary is not viewed as a means of examining the history of Britain, rather reinforcing the achievements of the country and its citizens. Wolf (23/03/2007: 41) states that, 'if this month's bicentenary serves any purpose then, it should be to reinstate Clarkson to his rightful place as one the greatest of British heroes - an ordinary man who achieved extraordinary things.'

This perspective is echoed in the article written by Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester (25/03/2007: 18), titled, 'Why I am NOT saying sorry for slavery.' Reacting against the views of a number of individuals within the Anglican Church and other denominations, Bishop Nazir-Ali states that, 'this should be a time of celebration and of thanksgiving for Britain's role in bringing this great oppression and cruelty to an end.' Describing British abolitionists as 'saints', Bishop Nazir-Ali reveals the holy trinity of campaigners, 'Clarkson the father, Wilberforce the engine, Newton the inspiration.' Britain's role in the abolition and the Royal Navy's actions against slave traders after 1807 are celebrated in the article. An apology is not only represented as not required in the article it is considered highly damaging to 'British civilisation.' Apologising according to Nazir-Ali would undermine Britain's very institutions by overloading it with a sense of misplaced guilt. Britain is portrayed as a virtual innocent in the slave trade and praised for the success of Christians in bringing about abolition. 'The mea culpa brigade is so vociferous about Western involvement in the slave trade that it neglects the role Africans themselves played...It ignores also the huge involvement of Arabs particularly in East Africa' (Nazir-Ali 25/03/2007).

The small column of only an inch and a half, entitled, 'Our deep sorrow for slaves, by Blair', serves not to address the issue of apology but to detract and criticise the former Prime Minister Tony Blair for not apologising (26/03/2007: 8). The article serves not to ask for a national debate on an apology but to portray the insensitivities of an unpopular Prime Minister. Melanie Phillips (26/03/2007: 14) writing in a 'Comments' column also engages directly with the issue of apology, though repeats the line already stated in the newspaper. 'Yes, slavery was evil. But all this orgy of breast-beating is utterly absurd', Phillips writes. Britain as a principled and moral nation is stressed as the abolition of Britain's part in the slave trade is described as, 'one of the most principled and inspiring events in this country's history.' Phillips also states 'The anti-slavery movement was thus nothing less than the motor of social justice and decency with which Britain came to be identified.' Phillips laments the apparent willingness to feel guilty for Britain's past; 'Yet this country seems to find it impossible to celebrate its achievements; impossible to take pride in anything in its past. It seems only to want to denigrate itself at every opportunity.' The use of the word 'denigrate' in the article, from the 16th century Latin usage meaning 'to blacken', highlights the confrontational nature and the disregard for sensitivities in the reporting of the bicentenary of the abolition by the newspaper.

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