Friday, 10 December 2010

Student Protests

Captain Tact was texting me at my temp job earlier today to register his disgust at the way the press have covered the London student protests. Prior to hearing from him, all I’d read was part of a statement from the head of the MET describing the trouble makers as “a small but significant” minority, although the attack on the royals had filtered through my caffeine deprived senses to a certain extent.

“What are they saying,” I texted back, looking through old biology papers to see if the diagram I needed to do had been drawn before. It had not.

“Mainly banging on about the desecration of war memorials and attacks on the royal family. Nothing about the people stuck on the bridge.”

It transpired that one of the captain's friends, currently studying in London, had gone along to the protest at 3pm but on seeing the violence he decided to leave. He was prevented from doing so, detained on Westminster Bridge for over four hours without access to food, water, or the other accoutrements to which he has become accustomed.

“That’s what they always focus on,” I responded, adverbally. “Good news isn’t news, hence no mention of the protests in Scotland [which have all been pretty peaceful]… This is where social media helps because we can hear the other side to it almost as it happens. Sod the press. We know the truth and can pass it on.”

Having said that, not everyone in the world is using social media to follow the likes of Laurie Penny and Shiv Malik as they take to the streets of London. Especially not when they’re supposed to be working. And even fewer are aware of intrepid Edinburgh journos tirelessly following the boringly peaceful events up here. In which case, I suppose the captain has a point – the vast majority of people are presumably only getting the headlines given them by the national papers.

I thought I’d use my lunch break to find out what those were. Everyone said the same thing.

The Guardian had - “live coverage of all the latest news and reaction to the protests, in which the Prince of Wales’s car was attacked.”

The Daily Telegraph – “Prince Charles and Camilla attack: someone could have been shot”

The Mail – “Rioting mob who attacked Charles and Camilla were lucky not to be shot.”

The Sun – “Royal Car Attacked – Charles and Camilla stunned as demo yobs wreck limo.”

The Daily Mirror, meanwhile, came up with the restrained, “CAMILLA ATTACK TERROR”, but sadly I can’t actually get on to the News of the World website at work to see their thoughts because it is blocked for being ‘tasteless and offensive’.

Scottish papers joined in too. The Press and Journal went with the boring but accurate “Charles and Camilla caught up in riot over tuition fees”; The Herald opted for the musical sounding “The Fire of London”; whilst the Scotsman website posted “Royal Car attacked as student rioters run riot in London.” Darn those riot-running rioters.

This one headline – PAINT THROWN AT CAR, NOBODY HURT – is arguably not the most interesting part of what went on in Parliament Square yesterday. What about INNOCENT BYSTANDERS TRAPPED ON BRIDGE or Laurie Penny’s afore-linked eyewitness account which can be partially summarised by, POLICE BATTER CHILDREN.

Presumably those headlines aren’t dramatic enough? They mainly involve good for nothing students who want the government they voted for to honour their pre-election promises, which is boring. And nobody can empathise with students, they’ve all got ideas above their station and smell of toast. Meanwhile the story everyone went for in the end (that was Charles and Camilla getting a horrible fright, lest we forget) had violence worthy of caps lock. And celebrities to boot! Kind of…

Coincidentally, right after having this conversation, filmmaker Chris Salt aka @oblongpictures reiterated my initial point by tweeting:

Why protests turn bad: 5live yesterday “All very calm at the moment so no real story yet. We’ll cross live if there are any developments.”

‘Developments’ meaning bad behaviour from protesters, or the involvement of famous people.

I am curious to know why people in a creative industry like the media can’t find an attention grabbing headline in the fact that 30, 000 odd people turned up to protest in the first place. Surely that’s interesting? Isn’t it indicative of something? Nobody thinks they all turned up to chuck flares at police horses – but why were they there? Have any of them examined the new policy in detail? Is it really as bad as all that?

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