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Protestors hung out to dry by mainstream media

Protest-200The media blackout on alternative viewpoints to the dominant narrative is the key tactic to hold back progressive change. Indeed, it is perhaps the last force to prevent it at all, writes Jay Baker.

30 March 2014

To look at Australia from the outside – or from the other side of the world, as I currently stand – it's easy to assume that the country is currently experiencing a climate of unprecedented anti-immigrant sentiment where those desperately seeking asylum are being turned away at the borders, presumably to cheering crowds of native Australians.

However, the recent ‘March in March' suggests that this is not the case.

Peaceful protesters demonstrated their opposition to Prime Minister Tony Abbott's ignorance towards not just asylum seekers, but also the issues of marriage equality, climate change, and media ownership, ignorance exposed even by a group of high school students just hours before the protests, having grilled Abbott to the point of leaving him ‘waffling.'

The conservative estimate of the police suggested at least 10,000 campaigners endured the rain to march through the streets of Sydney for the 'March in March.'

Abbott's response also demonstrated further ignorance: “My understanding is that the only big rally in Sydney is the St Patrick's Day parade,” he said. “If their parade is rained on, there is always some Guinness available around the city.”

British-born monarchist Abbott, of course, has also responded to public broadcaster ABC – who applied some scrutiny to the government's involvement in spying while also reporting on the mistreatment of asylum seekers – by implying it is unpatriotic.

“You can't leap to be critical of your own country,” Abbott has suggested. The ABC, meanwhile, has pointed out that it is their role as an independent media organisation to publish stories the government will be unhappy about – what we used to refer to as, you know, ‘journalism.'

But Abbott, of course, is more favourable towards the privately-owned media companies of Rupert Murdoch, the mogul who enforces incredible influence over his editors and shifts their focus towards what can fairly be described as propaganda for the allies of Murdoch himself – Abbott being one of them.

These media outlets gave little fair reporting of the 'March in March,' if any coverage at all. Yes, for Abbott's friends, St Patrick's Day was “a good day to bury bad news,” a term used by one Tony Blair spin doctor on September 11, 2001.

This media blackout on alternative viewpoints to the dominant narrative is the key tactic to hold back progressive change. Indeed, it is perhaps the last force to prevent it at all.

In 2009, I was one of the thousands of protesters peacefully demonstrating at the G-20 summit in London, England, asking for such alternative perspectives to be acknowledged by the 20 representatives of the powers inside their compounds, talking amongst themselves as the people outside shouted louder in hopes of being heard, calling for fairer distribution of wealth in the economic plans of these world leaders in the wake of a global financial crisis.

There on the streets, riot police dispersed our non-violent demonstrations through a strategy of simple indiscriminate assault – all people of all ages and genders, battered and bloodied even as they staged sit-down protests to reinforce their peaceful intentions; police splitting and 'kettling' selected demonstrators to pen them in, panic and provoke them, setting the stage for Murdoch's cameras to catch them reacting, some smashing windows in either frustration or desperation as they attempted to create space for themselves to inhabit as respite from the assault up against the buildings.

In amongst all this, one newspaper vendor named Ian Tomlinson – not even actively engaged in the protests – died from injuries sustained in one of the plethora of police assaults, footage captured by the cameraphone of none other than an American investment fund manager to allow the state to scapegoat and prosecute one police officer as a 'bad apple' who, in fact, behaved in the same way as many of his colleagues, but with severely different results.

The irony didn't end there. The following day, I was one of hundreds of activists to take part in a vigil for Ian Tomlinson at the Bank of England. Even there, tasteless police soon surrounded us, trapped us, and demanded that everyone left through an opening they created for a stop-and-search procedure.

After hundreds yielded and departed, just 20 of us remained, refusing to be intimidated or treated like criminals, and the circle of police tightened, this time with their salivating dogs growling at us. It was our very own 'G-20.'

After a considerable stand-off – during which members of the public threw snacks over the police lines for us to share – the police finally gave in, and moved on.

But the greatest irony had to be in the days following. Over in Iran, with protesters railing against the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad amidst voting irregularities, Blair's successor Gordon Brown joined Barack Obama in public condemnations of crackdowns by Iranian police – while the streets of London were still stained with blood because people had the audacity to ask for their voices to be heard by the apparently civilised G-20 group.

Yes, everything went back to normal. The Murdoch media then – like now – only chose to highlight the demonstrations at all when protesters were successfully provoked.

This tactic is absolutely crucial in separating the spectator from the protester.

What authorities don't want is people getting up from their armchairs and joining those on the streets fighting for a better world, so it's important to either ignore campaigners, or ridicule and even demonise their actions, framing them in a light that is by no means positive.

Tony Abbott can condescend, belittle, and dismiss demonstrators – backed by his propagandist Rupert Murdoch – but as people increasingly access information from alternative media outlets like the one you're reading now, the ability of him and his ilk to divide populations into groups of activists and spectators will diminish, too, and more and more people will become engaged in issues that matter.

Even the high school students are wising up.

Jay Baker is Associate Editor at The Scavenger.


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