How the Media Undermined the Message of the Masses

Helen Dring, 28 March 2011

Categories: Protest | Police | Democracy | Politics | BBC News | The Guardian | The Daily Mail |

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The TUC dubbed Saturday's march a 'March for the Alternative', an alternative where “rich individuals and big companies have to pay all their tax, that the banks pay a Robin Hood tax and on in which we strain every sinew to create jobs and boost the sustainable economic growth that will generate the prosperity which is the only long term way to close the deficit and reduce the nation’s debt”. However, in the lead up to the march, many media outlets were already predicting violence and belittling the aims of the march.

On Thursday 24th, Simon Jenkins in The Guardian said that the planned march “dumbs down politics and insults those suffering under quasi-fascist regimes”, while the Daily Mail Online spoke of “fears of fresh anarchy”. On the BBC, whilst expected numbers for the march fluctuated from 200,000 to 500,000, the overall anticipation was for a peaceful, controlled, structured protest.

For the most part, this is precisely what it was. The BBC live coverage showed the march setting off and in progress, highlighting the diversity of the protesters. Families, students and pensioners that had apparently 'never protested before' and various unions from the front-line of the cut sectors all marched together. It was a slow, steady march heading for the rally at Hyde Park. And then the small, masked group of protesters broke away. From the second that happened, even the BBC's tone changed, and a sense of 'violence' was in the air. There were reports of light bulbs filled with ammonia hurled at police and several close ups were repeated of smashed windows.

Online Student Newspaper Elephant had various correspondents report live from the march all day, and from fifteen pages of photos of peaceful protesters and quotes from the day, only two or so pages focus on what reporters on this site dubbed the 'black bloc'. In this live coverage, the break away group seemed insignificant and the main body of protesters seemed not to realise that they were taking up so much of the media's attention.

Once Sunday morning dawned, it was clear that the peaceful protest that had occurred in the main had been sidelined for coverage of the 'outbreaks of violence' as it was called in the Guardian. Other news outlets went further. The Daily Mail Online's headline was “200 arrested as hardcore anarchists fight police long into night in Battle of Trafalgar Square after 500,000 march against the cut” , only once admitting that the protest had been 'good natured'. In the aftermath of the march, attendance figures still range from 200,000 to 500,000 depending on which newspaper you read, and the mass of tweets and facebook updates coming from those who attended are treated as unreliable when faced with the footage of the 'violence' at Fortnum and Mason.

As the new week begins and newspapers manage to gather true accounts from eye-witnesses, it appears some of the damage may have already been done to the image of what was, for the most part, a peaceful demonstration with the best of intentions. Despite the attempts of many attendees of the march to publicise their blogs and photos of the events, the main coverage, the stories that gain the most ground both on the internet and on television, remain the editorials of the mass media, a media that can be said to have lacked objectivity on this march even before the first protester set off. In an editorial on The Independent website this morning, a columnist describes how the violence seen at the march has left “the political stakes little changed – and, regrettably, a bad taste that is likely to linger”.

Categories in which this article appears: Protest | Police | Democracy | Politics | BBC News | The Guardian | The Daily Mail |

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