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Did the live TV coverage really have to focus so much on the violence?

Posted on 27 March 2011 | 11:03am

I was at a conference most of yesterday, at a dinner in the evening and so missed both the march and most of the coverage.

Fiona kept me in touch with a few text messages, mainly saying how big the crowds were and how good the mood.

When I did catch the odd glimpse either on the radio in a car or on a tv screen in a hotel foyer, or when finally I got home and had a proper look, the focus seemed to be entirely on violence. Talk about the actions of a few drowing out the peaceful message of the many.

The broadcasters will doubtless say they couldn’t possibly ignore the clashes between protesters and police, or the storming of shops. The question is whether they had to focus on it virtually to the exclusion of all else.

I sensed from twitter than Ed Miliband’s speech was just a few paragraphs old when the broadcasters decided a bit of aggro kicking off elsewhere was more newsworthy.

In an era when lots of young people define ‘being famous’ as their stated ambition, anyone can have their 15 minutes’ worth by getting themselves near a camera and hurling abuse, paint or missiles at a police officer in a helmet.

I’m not saying the media should ignore them. But they’d be doing a better job of covering the event, particularly when doing so live, if they adopted a sense of perspective. The assumption that all people will want to see are scenes of violence and abuse is wrong. It is easy, lazy TV for stations with too many hours to fill, and the thugs – or ‘anarchists’ as we are supposed to call them –  are happy to fill them.

This is not a new phenomenon. I remember at the 1998 European Summit in Cardiff when TB said he was ashamed to be English as England’s football fans rioted around Marseille.

Hour upon hour of wallpaper TV was devoted to giving a platform to a few hundred yobs. ‘We’ll be back in Marseille as soon as the next outbreak of violence erupts,’ said the presenter ‘but now for the weather.’

  • Tory media need we say more .

  • Martin

    We all know that people are not happy about cuts in spending. There was a march of a tiny fraction of the populace, organised by the left to demonstrate the fact. Sorry, but that’s old hat and not the story. The story is the thugs, as you call them, smashing up London.

  • Olli Issakainen

    Up to 500,000 people marched through London peacefully againts the cuts. Yet more space is given in the media to a tiny number of anarchists in Oxford Street than to Ed Miliband´s speech in Hyde Park.
    And on LBC a host called the cuts “SAVINGS”.
    Yet it was a fine day overall as I was also able to watch the boatrace live on BBC World. Cambridge, of course, should have won…
    George Osborne has a package of cuts and tax rises totalling £150bn by 2015-16. He claims that because of this austerity public finances will be sustainable by 2015.
    Unfortunately this – like “bankruptcy”, “Greece” and “credit card”, is not true. According to Budget debt service costs will be £67bn a year by 2015. 10% of total tax receipts!
    A plan B with emphasis on growth and jobs is urgently needed.
    Britain´s AAA rating is now in danger because of the Tory-led government. When George Osborne took office, there was no threat to the credit rating.
    Mr Osborne´s plan is to buy the next election. He is going to sell shares in RBS and Lloyds and then cut taxes.

  • Jop10gw

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. As a student currently studying journalism, when I watch the news coverage of a protest like this, it makes me think I should have gone to film school instead. The heavily mediated message that these TV crews put across is resembling a Hollywood blockbuster rather than a balanced news report.

  • Of course they didn’t have to. They chose to.

    The BBC I imagine because it provides exciting images with little need for analysis and avoids them incurring the wrath of the right by exploring genuine alternatives to public service cuts and privatisation.

    The right wing press for obvious reasons: the main one being record numbers of people from mainstream Britain marching in common cause against their government scares them and is not a story they want to tell. More here

  • KDouglas

    Have seen virtually no coverage, and don’t want to. As far as I’m concerned, the demo I attended and what happened when it was over are two discrete things. If the broadcasters cannot convey that then, yes, you are right, they definitely aren’t doing their job. And should anyone be surprised if the hundreds of thousands who marched peacefully and with conviction are ignored by TV? We were the news yesterday. Sod the TV.

  • Ehtch

    I was watching the rolling news yesterday afternoon, and as soon as certain things started, on Oxford Street at about five to two, Beeb News 24 and Sky News were onto it like a flash, in the middle of Ed Milibands speech. Quite pathetic it was.

    And all day, Beeb and Sky had a very conderscending attitude to it all, the main march that is, for some reason…

  • Sarah Dodds

    But is this not just true of life in general?
    How many days of teaching do you think I have gone home and dwelt on the only badly behaved/violent child in the class as opposed to the well behaved majority? I am sure you must have found this out in Dream School!

    Will the violence have affected the amout of coverage the march got overall? After all, the march was still reported on heavily. Is it not possible that the media outlets would have just have chosen something else to have lead on entirely, leaving the TUC march as the second/third piece?

    I don’t know how the media works, but I do wonder if it is too simplistic to say that the violence took away from the coverage of rest of the day.
    Good news is very rarely news at all (unless the initials HRH are involved.)

  • Richard

    You had the power in the past to get rid of Editors and DGs, and it is obvious you still yearn for such influence. Sorry that all of the Moribund speech was not broadcast, interrupted by the outbreak of pre planned anarchy and violence against the police as it was on TV.
    How good it is that you were not replaced with someone of your powers and that Government since then has been held to account far more than you allowed.
    The peaceful nature of the main march was adequately covered on the News bulletins I saw. The organisers must have recognised that such a march and peaceful protest at this time ran the risk of being hijacked by senseless thugs, and must suffer the consequences.
    One of the penalties we pay for the brilliance of the internet is it’s ability to message instantly hoardes of people and direct the to new locations etc etc. A price worth paying I am sure we all agree.

  • smifffyd

    I agree that the media are more interested in the voilence than the proper political message, but don’t you think the proper march would have got equal coverage if the media believed that it amounted to more than Don Quijote tilting at windmills?

  • Anonymous

    You’re wrong, and you know you are. Doesn’t sound as if you were there, either – otherwise you would know that the participants were very diverse.

  • Steve Brundish

    I watched the 24 news coverage of the paint throwing. The news channels need to grow up. This was not a real riot just a rolling publicity stunt. Sky showed scenes of a few people throwing paint with 20 or 30 photographers gathered round falling over each over to get the best shot. In fact there were more media than police. I suppose there was nothing else for the news channels to cover the Japan thing was last week, Bombing of Libya is now boring and England failed to lose to Wales. The TUC would do better to have a giant model of a hospital being chopped to bits by 20 people dressed as surgeons on roller skates with the House of Commons as a back drop. It seems real people and alternative views count for nothing.

  • Scooke7

    Herr Goebbels,
    Well, what did you expect the BBC to do? They have to justify paying £92k to a newsreader & the only way to do that is report on the thugs. Luckily, it happened on a Saturday as there is no Newsnight. But I still expect £1 million per year Paxman to waste licence fee on it this coming week. Perhaps it has already been covered in last week’s Newsnight.
    One of these days, people are going to realise that the BBC is the REAL enemy of the people and then hopefully, TV centre becomes a target. Till then, Paxman, Robinson, Dimbleby brothers will continue siphoning off the £3.5 billion. Luckily, I don’t contribute to this scam anymore, so it doesn’t bother me. You can say what you want about Murdoch, but at least you have a choice to buy or not to buy his media products.

  • gertie

    I hope there are an abundance of marches to come and the media will have no choice but to cover them. It is reported that 500,000+ were protesting on the streets of London ‘Call me Dave’ can not bury his head in the sand and just ignore it – he works for us. As for the so called ‘riots’, please. I feel so sad for our youth that the tory’s have thrown on the scrapheap – let’s not forget, overpriced uni fees, withdrawal of EMA and travel passes, mass unemployment…..I think this is just the tip of the iceberg!

  • deepmore

    Such a shame that the protest march was hijacked by these thugs and morons. We lost any media interest in the protest march after that began. I am 62 not prone to to protest marching and I know that cuts are needed but not like this. Gideon did not even have the balls to announce the winter fuel cut ( I give mine to charity) in his budget speech

  • smifffyd

    Fantastic, blame the BBC.
    Have you heard how much the right wing hate the BBC? They must be getting it just about bang in the middle.

  • I dont think in the old days that TB would have gone where near the TUC protest, not his kind of thing really, he didnt much like the TUC! Thought Ed Miliband made a bad political mistake, will he attend more protest marches? Would AC ex Spin Doctor advice that?

  • Jenni

    I completely agree. I’m a student in London and was there yesterday marching as one of the peaceful majority, and perversely the coverage of the march focuses on the actions of the ‘anarchists’, punctuated every now and then by a reporter mentioning the peaceful majority before cutting back to images of masks, smoke and fire.

  • Joe

    Your support for the march is welcome, but your comments re media misrepresenting the whole thing really beggars belief. Although I agree the BBC could have focussed more on the whole cuts debate, your efforts controlling the media in your previous job put paid to any notion of you as a supporter of a free and democratic press. Laughable

  • Sburns4109

    Face it, Alastair. Tony Blair wouild never have been so daft as to attend that rally, nor would David Milliband either. You would have advised them not to, in no uncertain terms. Ed Milliband’s problem is that he is to the left of the vast majority of the British electorate and he just can’t help himself. With Ed the next election is already lost for Labour. I felt certain of this watching him on stage, looking about 13, lost in the hugeness of the event, and just generally having no presence or oomph. They need to get David in now.

  • SG

    ‘Tory Media’
    It’s the same media that slated the Tories and backed Labour for 10+ years

  • Nick

    “a tiny fraction of the populace”

    I think we call that “the Big Society” nowadays.

  • ambrosian

    Once again, the BBC were interviewing someone from the Taxpayers Alliance and re-playing the interview throughout the day. They never explain that this is a loony right-wing outfit that speaks for only a miniscule percentage of taxpayers and I find it strange that their idea of ‘balance’ is to constantly parade this tiny pressure group and lend them spurious credibility in a way they would never do with the BNP or a far-left organisation.

  • I think you’ve missed his point: he is the part of the “right wing hating BBC”, so am I but I don’t call it that. I suggest that the intro “Herr Goebbels on AC’s blog should have indicated Scooke7’s viewpoint.

  • I see the number is going up “nearly 500 thousand”…”more than 500 thousand” etc. “representing the country. Just as many marched under a pro-hunting base but were called a tiny minority…and weren’t listened to. A million marched anti war but were ignored…

    Olli, Britain’ s AAA rating has just been saved, did you miss it? The “cuts” barely represent 3%, a level back to the dark days of…2007.

    “10% of total tax receipts!”…exactly. And here’s you advocating doing nothing about it.

  • Scooke7

    Sorry…but I was not blaming the BBC. I was merely providing supporting evidence to Herr Goebbels…oops AC’s view of the media coverage of the march. The BBC is neither left or right-leaning. It would be fine if they were because at least we would all then know. The BBC are actually far more dangerous because they will always pick up on the minority and turn it into a big thing. EVERYONE (left or right) would condemn the violent aspects of the march. But not the BBC. Why not? Some of the actions were simply criminal.

  • Chris lancashire

    Let’s face it, pictures of peaceful marchers are a lot more boring than rioters kicking windows in and, frankly, most things are more interesting than an Ed Milliband speech.

  • Anonymous

    I read a very good piece about the march by Diana Smith, about how skewed the media coverage was, and what the real experience was like. (I was also on the march and can vouch for what she says!)

    She also makes the really good point that:

    What this government has not yet grasped is that government must be by consent. They may judge that what they are doing is for the good of the people, but if they cannot carry people with them it is doomed to failure.

  • FTP Topcliff

    Coverage is one thing but it is for Labour and the Trade Unions to answer the fundamental question here: why are the thugs, vandals and criminals on your side? Why is part of your support base so violently anti-social?

    I would suggest that these people are wound up by the hysterical tone of Labour denounciations of the Colaition. Milliband et al should take responsibility. The fact is the cuts are (a) not very big (b) hardly bigger than Labour’s planned cuts and (c) haven’t started yet. Given this, the howls of anguish are crocodile tears, a demogogoc devise to whip up unreasonable hatred. Hate speech in fact.

  • Anonymous

    You must have got bored with the Telegraph and come over for a bit of light relief.

    Go back to your own planet.