News Of The Skews
This issue’s look at national media skew-whiffery.
Squall 15, Summer 1997, pg. 19.
Media Lust For Riot
The March for Social Justice on April 12th became the subject of another chapter in the media riot act.
There was a fracas. There was paramilitary style policing. But for far longer and for a far greater majority, the march was a celebration of hearted yet peaceful public protest.
For the entire national media, however, a riot was the focus of a multitude of reports which identified the protagonists as march co-organisers Reclaim the Streets. RTS and their sympathisers were described in several broadsheets as ‘militant environmental activists’.
Saturday evening’s broadcast media and Sunday’s national newspapers fortified the image with reports about three people charged with attempted murder whilst another one had been found with a three foot blade. The charges for murder were not included in the Metropolitan Police press release of arrests but was told to journalists by Metropolitan Police press officers over the phone. The dramatic impact of the ‘three foot blade’ was undermined when it was revealed that the blade belonged to man calling himself King Arthur. The ‘King’ is infact a well known personality, not least because he always wears both his period regalia and his constant companion ‘Excalibar’. He is in fact a druid of several orders, both firmly and peacefully believing in his own very unusual mission and a far cry from the uncontextualised connotation of a ‘three foot blade’.
The charges of ‘attempted murder’ were in fact never carried forward, having served their purpose in the post-event media coverage. The only journalist to mention the fact that the attempted murder charge were never brought at all was Paul Foot in his ‘Footnotes’ column in Private Eye [9/5/97].
This very specific focus on both violence and environmental activism is indicative of an insidious sub-agenda. The pro-active paramilitary style policing strategies developed since the Miners Strike in 1984/5 and used on the March for Social Justice require continual justification. Meanwhile both the Security Services Act 1996 and the Police Act 1997, allows police and the security service to authorise intrusive surveillance operations against anyone involved in serious crime. The definition of ‘serious crime’ includes “conduct by a large number of people in pursuit of a common purpose”. Indeed both police and MI5 have an expressed interest in the arena of animal rights activism and, by easy extension, environmental activism. Whilst it has been revealed that Special Branch already have a data-base on road protestors, the DoT have paid out £2.2 million to Brays Detective Agency to gather intelligence on road protestors (see ‘Watch With Big Brother’ in this issue).
These operational powers have now been increased by both the Security Services Act and the Police Act. But for what?
Justification for these disproportionately draconian powers is in fact simply missing.
In its absence, media manufacture has been employed in attempts to engender a public impression likely to support state clampdowns and justify surveillance.
The only breach in this media barrage was presented rather unusually on the front page of Monday’s Daily Telegraph; “Whilst police indicated that Reclaim The Streets...was responsible for the battles between 500 demonstrators and officers in riot gear, the marchers claimed that their event was sabotaged by unconnected extremists”. The piece devoted an unusually large amount of space to a spokesperson from Reclaim The Streets: “I saw some of our people actually trying to stop yobbos who had got tanked up on beer and were mindlessly throwing bottles and rocks. A few of our contingent actually put themselves into the firing line and one was beaten up by someone who said he was from ‘Red Action’. We are a direct action group and always say bad laws should be broken but we never do anything that would cause injury.” [Daily Telegraph 14/4/97] Appearing on the front page of a national broadsheet this was remarkably different all the other media reports including those that had appeared in the Sunday Telegraph the day before.
Shortly after the media-onslaught on ‘militant environmental activism’, the Guardian carried a large news piece headlined: “Bomb used by animal rights activists” [28/4/97].
The ‘bomb’ referred to was in fact a letter containing razor blades sent to a Conservative candidate in the Vale of York who publicly supports blood sports. However, the reader doesn’t find this out until the second paragraph. The first paragraph and almost the entire ten column-inch article was based on an unnamed ‘spokesperson’ from the Animal Liberation Front, talking of a “new mood of militancy”. The ALF of course do not have a central organisation, rendering it possible that anyone could claim to be a spokesperson. The ‘spokesperson’ used by the Guardian remains anonymous, rendering it completely impossible to work out the significance of the unattributed comments. It is remarkable for such a large news story, based on almost no actual news, to appear in the pages of a national newspaper.
What seems clear is that with most protestors holding an ingenious ‘in their face but not with bricks’ tactical line, the authorities find it increasingly hard to justify their heavy clampdowns and covert surveillance.
There is of course the ever present danger of active agent provocateurs sparking up violence on protests in order to give the authorities the justification they require. However, despite compliant sensationalist media coverage following the burning of a digger at Newbury and the fracas on the March for Social Justice, and despite the continual media- manufacture designed to inflate animal rights activism as terrorism, the authorities are failing to win the image war. A certain labrador smile splashed consistently and liberally across the pages and screens of our national media, has a much to do with this failure. Even if certain quarters feel resentful at the singular media-hero-isation of Swampy, that resentment is nothing compared to those elements of the establishment who require the public to believe that all environmental activists have the potential to be terrorists at any moment.
Brazilian Aids victim labelled ‘illiterate syphilitic’ by Tebbit
On the 14th April Jose Tadeo dos Santos was a Brazilian musician dying of AIDS in Mildmay Mission Hospital.
By 18th April Jose had become, according to Norman T ebbit ‘this creature...an illiterate syphilitic...who has no right to be here’, one of the army of ‘deadbeat infectious South Americans’ (The Sun). Tebbit went on to name Jose as his On Yer Bike candidate for the week: ‘Saddle up and off the pier you go. Start swimming westwards across the Atlantic - back home to Brazil where you belong. You have been freeloading here far too long.’
The scapegoating of a black, developing world AIDS victim started in a feature in the Evening Standard (14/4/97). The journalist, Jo-Ann Goodwin, talked of Jose as if he were a plague carrier. The front page headline refers to Jose as the ‘AIDS man’ and she also states: ‘Jose had slept with many girls since coming to London’ to back up her nagging reminders of the ‘unknown number of Londoners’ he has supposedly ‘put at risk’. He has ‘been allowed to wreak such potential havoc’. This is unsupported and contradicts the experience of those who know Jose. Indeed, ‘since 1993 I never saw him with a woman,’ says a friend, Jose Pedroso.
‘Jose Tadeo dos Santos, 36, who also suffers from ... highly-contagious tuberculosis is free to wander the streets of London’ Goodwin reveals before describing with relish a ‘multi-drug resistant TB, which is ...often fatal.’ She ignores the fact that Jose’s nurses and visitors at the hospital do not use any form of protection from infection.
Apparently it is also a scandal that he is receiving Housing Benefit and Disability Living Allowance and had the chance to die with proper healthcare, as he is an ‘overstayer’. (He has stayed in Britain longer than his six month tourist visa allows).
Nor is Jose a good-for-nothing ‘with no intention of working… living off his friends’. In reality he earned money from his music and lived in a squat before his AIDS reached an advanced stage.
After the front page headline, ‘£250,000 Scandal of AIDS man Britain can’t expel’, the figure of £250,000 from some unspecified ‘informal estimates’ was on two further Evening Standard front pages, as well as in the Daily Mail and The Times. So where does it come from?
The whole incident has left Jose in despair. He knows that as a result of the Evening Standard article a Brazilian TV station contacted his mother and told her that he is dying of AIDS, which he had always hidden from her.
Nor is he surrounded by close friends in the UK anymore. He can’t speak English and relied largely on Brazilians friendship. His best friend had been Gilmar Cruz da Silva who happens to be the husband of Jo-Ann Goodwin. It was through him that she had access to the Brazilian community. Media integrity plunging to a new low.
Time Out’s Slimy shout
After being accused of attempted murder, why not arbitrarily accuse avowedly non violent RTS demonstrators of arson as well?
That’s exactly what London listings and supposedly right on magazine Time Out did in April.
Discussing a new ‘art’ object in its Trends section, a portable arson kit, ie a box of matches, Time Out opined it would be “just the thing for rioting Reclaim the Streets protesters”.
News Of The Skews - Nicholas Saunders, author of E for Ecstasy, replies to recent media mis-info on E - Squall 14 - Autumn 1996.