The “Tarpaulin Revolution” and media bias

On Saturday, 18th October the TUC-organised “Britain Needs a Pay Rise” march took place, with somewhere between fifty and one hundred thousand participants.

Following this, Occupy London set up at Parliament Square on Saturday night, with a programme of events planned for this week. The aim: to create a movement of citizens with an alternative idea for how society should function. There have been allegations of over-policing: signs, food and tarpaulins(!) have been confiscated, and so far one arrest has been made.

parliament-square

“Robust” policing of Parliament Square, 18th October 2014. Photo: Demotix (http://www.demotix.com/news/6036433/robust-policing-occupy-democracy-camp-parliament-square#media-6036389)

However, you’d be hard-pressed to come across much coverage in the UK mass media. This story doesn’t appear on BBC or Sky News’s websites, or unsurprisingly, the Daily Mail. Even the Guardian website has run just two stories on the latest developments on its dedicated “Occupy London” page (http://www.theguardian.com/uk/occupy-london)

 Why?

In terms of the media’s potential selection of this story for coverage, the Occupy event is:

  • in Central London, and highly visible
  • arguably interesting: people camping out in poor weather, with some reported actions of the Police as possibly violent – and now tarp-gate
  • fairly relevant to people’s lives – it’s politics, in the home of politics, at a time when we’re seeing furore about parties’ participation in TV debates, ‘theme songs’ and pay strikes
  • organised by the same group that were responsible for lots of press 3 (?) years ago
  • raising the prospect that there’s a problem with democracy in the UK smack bang in between a sovereignty referendum and a general election.

So the lack of media coverage seems a little strange, no?!

Looking at the big stories of the day it’s easy to see why there might be selection bias against Occupy Democracy:

  • Ebola
  • ISIS/ISIL
  • an incoming hurricane
  • the death of much-loved actress, Lynda Bellingham
  • Oscar Pistorius’s sentencing

The media can afford to ignore the stories that they feel won’t sell – there’s more material out there than could ever be reported. But why wouldn’t a tale of people committed enough to their cause to sleep out in the tail end of a hurricane, without the confiscated tarps, sell? Is there a bigger bias at play?

Despite the lack of mass media coverage, the Occupy Democracy are trying to get their message out to would-be supporters. Their very presence at the gates (or bollards) of UK democracy surely allows them the opportunity to get their message to decision-makers and some members of the public, but to truly succeed in their vision of an alternative future they need mass support.

Looking at Dieter Rucht’s “quadruple ‘A'” idea (1), which tries to explain the different interactions movements may have with the media, we might conclude that Occupy are trying to ‘adapt’, but are also using ‘alternatives’ here.

Indymedia, for example, are following the story closely (http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2014/10/518468.html?c=on).

We could argue that social media isn’t controlled in the same way as the mass media, as it is user-generated, and so could qualify as either an ‘alternative’ to the mass media, or an ‘adaptation’ of it. One one hand, Facebook, Twitter etc are corporate-owned, but on the other, content is produced by anyone, including campaigning groups.

Occupy Democracy’s Twitter, with 1,249 followers (https://twitter.com/occupydemocracy, as of 20/10/14 at 11:30pm) has been created specifically for this event. There is an Occupy Democracy YouTube channel. Occupy are also using a site called Bambuser at http://bambuser.com/v/5013694 to stream videos from the event via mobile phones. This is significant as it allows many participants to produce the media message and use social media to promote it – no media experts needed. Bambuser also allows comments on the video stream – in Occupy’s case this is being used by supporters to encourage and offer advice.

The horizontal organisation of Occupy doesn’t lend itself well to a firm media strategy, where you need media-trained professionals and spokespeople. In the Occupy London protests of 2011, where St Paul’s Square was occupied, there was hostile media coverage – including thermal imaging camera use to ‘prove’ tents weren’t occupied. Perhaps these factors contribute to the inevitability that Occupy Democracy will at times ‘abstain’ from utilising the mass media to convey its message altogether, preferring self-made media such as Tweets and video blogs.

 

Edit: after writing this post last night,the BBC have (finally) featured a story about the events on Parliament Square – however this simply pointed out that Baroness Jenny Jones of the Green Party was arrested, then “de-arrested” – perhaps this ramped up the media interest?


(1) – in “Cyberprotest: New media, citizens and social movements”, 2004, Edited by Wim van de Donk, p31-32

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