Blurring the Line Between Riot and Protest

Amy Woods, 8 August 2011

Categories: London Riots | BBC News | Protest |

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For a third day riots are underway in several boroughs of London. Reporting earlier this evening from Hackney, the BBC’s Phillipa Thomas repeatedly referred to the rioters as ‘protesters’. What they may be protesting against, she did not say. As the Met itself has suggested, the current riots are not connected to the initial peaceful protest in Tottenham following the fatal shooting by police of Mark Duggan.

Interviewed on BBC News, former Metropolitan Police Commander, John O’Connor, joined Thomas in her description of the rioters.

This appears to be the latest example of a manner of reporting which blurs the line between protests and riots. Consistently, news coverage of protests tends to focus on any outbreaks of violence, no matter how marginal or unrepresentative of the masses.

When up to 500,000 protesters march through Central London in a largely peaceful protest against planned government cuts in March, headlines were allocated to the damage caused by breakaway groups not associated with the main rally.

That same day, after a peaceful protest inside Fortnum and Mason on Oxford St, members of the activist group UK Uncut, were arrested and, though referred to by a chief inspector for the Metropolitan police as ‘non-violent and sensible’, have been branded as ‘rioters’ by the media.

The events of the past few days have many causes. Whatever the roots, there are now indisputably acts of rioting and looting. Yet now the BBC chooses not to refer to the participants as mere ‘rioters’ or ‘looters’, but as ‘protesters’, and in so doing continues the inversion of reality that enables the criminalisation of legitimate protest.

Categories in which this article appears: London Riots | BBC News | Protest |

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