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The Times

The Times through its coverage of the commemoration of the 1807 Abolition Act served to strengthen a number of perceptions regarding Britain's role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Whilst some articles were highly critical of the 'traditional' view of the victory of British abolitionists, the newspaper drew heavily upon the work of Wilberforce and Clarkson to report on the bicentenary.

Dissenting voices were restricted to the 'Comments' page, such as the article by Alice Mills (23/03/2007: 19), who drew attention to the way in which Britain still suffers from the poisonous heritage of slavery. Entitled, 'That's enough self-congratulations about the slave trade: Racial equality in Britain? Don't make me laugh', Mills highlights the racism still present in the country, these prejudices are considered to have been inherited from the period of the slave trade. Mills (23/03/2007) asks the pointed question regarding the abolition commemorations, 'should we, modern multicultural Britain, be patting ourselves on the back quite yet?' This notion of self-congratulation regarding the abolition is however not taken up in any other article in the newspaper. The central feature of an article in the supplement Times 2 is an article which firmly labels slavery as an 'African problem'; '200 years after abolition...why child trafficking still haunts West Africa' (MacIntyre and Bannerman 23/03/2007: 4-6). This article not only explores the slavery which is still continuing in West Africa with child trafficking, but it also reveals the involvement of the Times with the British abolition movement. The twin themes of morality and nationality are particularly evident in this article; 'On March 5th 1788, the Times nailed its colours to the mast with a thunderous editorial against slavery; 'Though the world be for slavery, the TIMES are for freedom. The struggle to emancipate the Negroes from chains, cruelty and base subordination, even though it should fail, would reflect honour on this country.'

Issues of apology and compensation are met with quite a different response. Although the front page of The Sunday Times (25/03/2007: 1) features a photograph of a young woman carrying a symbolic cross in the London march to mark the abolition act a number of articles dismiss the idea. In the 'Letters' (25/03/2007: 20) section in The Sunday Times, members of the public criticise those who have backed the campaign for an apology. These letters are along the lines of, 'shall we make Rome apologise for the invasion and enslavement of Britons?' This mocking attitude is continued with the article by Rod Liddle (25/03/2007: 6) who reports on members of the Evangelical Christian group who were marching to London in chains as a gesture of repentance and apology. 'Today in London, there will be more people saying sorry to one another than at a national convention of invertebrate apologists.' Liddle (25/03/2007: 6) states the well-worn arguments, 'we were not the first offenders...nor did we invent slavery' and that, 'Africans themselves had been enslaving one another for century after century before we came along.' The reiteration of traditional views on British abolitionists is evident in the celebratory profile of Wilberforce (anon 25/03/07: 21), which brushes over any criticisms to confirm that, 'the bottom line is that Wilberforce played a leading part in stopping 40,000 Africans a year being made slaves to the British.' The only article which examines a nation uncomfortable with it's past is Jonathan Clayton's (26/03/2007) discussion on the way in which Sierra Leone has hidden from it's past associations with the slave trade. A similar analysis of complexities involved in the British commemoration is noticeably lacking.

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