Will the mainstream media give us our voice back?
The Occupy Wall Street movement rolls on. Now into its fourth week, it is slowly dawning on the US mainstream media that there is a genuine, sustained desire from these protestors to have their voices heard. This is a bit of the problem for the conservative media since the protestors wish for a change in the culture of greed that is so ubiquitous in Wall Street doesn’t quite tally up with their defence of the status quo. The answer to such a quandary? An all-out attack on the methods and aims of the protestors, casting them as anti-American, anti-Capitalist and anti-freedom, and some analysts at Fox were even kind enough to inform us of the striking parallels between these protests and those that occurred around the time of the Russian revolution and Hitler’s rise to power in the 30’s.
As always, one must turn to Jon Stewart to find the voice of reason in amongst all the madness. Reflecting on the media coverage of the Wall Street protests, Stewart noted how they only have two settings; blackout and circus. At the outset of these protests, nearly all of the US mainstream media was prepared to simply ignore the issue. Rather than engage in an open and honest debate with the protestors about their concerns, the conservative media figured they couldn’t really be bothered with that whole freedom of speech malarkey. Or more accurately, they were perfectly happy for the protestors to speak their minds just so long as they recognised their crazed views weren’t going to get an airing to the wider general public.
The media reaction changed though following the Brooklyn Bridge demonstration in which police arrested around 700 protestors. It was a predictable change of course; once the media get a whiff of any violence or scuffles between protestors and police that subsequently lead to arrests, they know they can now frame the issue on their terms, where the discussion is not about the arguments of the protestors but the civil unrest they’re causing for the decent, law-abiding majority.
It is a well-rehearsed routine that so much of the media now employ; if there is a protest taking place, it will originally be ignored if it doesn’t fit with the overall narrative that media outlet prefers. Why have debates when it’s so much easier to simply shut the other side out and only give the public one side of the story? The blackout only ends if the demonstration turns violent, in which case, as Stewart alluded to, the dial turns to media circus. The protestors are denounced for the unrest they’ve caused, the debate is framed in terms of the mob minority vs. the law-abiding majority, and it is made clear just how ridiculous their views are.
Unfortunately, such behaviour is not simply confined to the US media. Ask anybody in Britain to name one major demonstration that has taken place since the formation of the coalition government last May and the overwhelming response will be the student protests last winter. Yet there have been many, many others, some involving a great deal more participants than the student protests, such as the March for the Alternative earlier this year which involved nearly half a million people.
But none of these other protests turned particularly violent, so whilst most of the press were at least decent enough to devote the odd column inch or two to some of them, none of them were given the sustained coverage they deserved. The student protests by contrast were given the upmost priority for several weeks. Except in most cases, we weren’t treated to informed debates about the affordability of higher education if fees are trebled, but rather the punishments that needed to be handed out to those who threw cans at royalty, or who dared to fight back having been kettled in for hours.
Last Sunday, several thousand protestors managed to shut down Westminster Bridge as part of a demonstration against the proposed reorganisation of the NHS. Given the widespread opposition to Andrew Lansley’s plans amongst the public, the coverage of the protest was pitiful. The Telegraph completely ignored it, the BBC failed to cover it on their main news, whilst even the Guardian only offered up a solitary piece on the issue. Clearly hunting, down Liam Fox should take precedence over the fight to save Britain’s most cherished institution.
This isn’t about demanding that media outlets take a particular political viewpoint. Newspapers, and over in the US, television networks, are free to take whatever political position they wish; that is there democratic right. But it is the public’s democratic right to have its voice heard and right now there are far too many media organisations doing everything they can to subvert that right.
This weekend, Occupy Wall Street will be joined by Occupy the London Stock Exchange. The protestors on Wall Street claim they’re the 99%. Increasingly it feels as if large swaths of the mainstream media have decided they would rather represent the views of the 1%.