30th Mar 2011

Anti-cuts protests and media politics

We live in interesting times, so the old Chinese proverb goes. And here’s a piece of citizen journalism (well, more accurately, student journalism) attempting to reach a level of ‘grounded coverage’ starkly in contrast to the deviance-amplifying helicopter shots favoured by the major broadcasters.

On the whole, though, BBC and Sky News coverage of the anti-cuts march was at pains to distinguish between the peaceful protests of the many (the only query being about numbers, with 200,000 a major under-estimation but half a million perhaps over the top) and the thuggery of the hooligan few.

Nonetheless, the political wisdom behind Ed Miliband’s decision to address the march remains rather uncertain. It was, without doubt, a major risk-taking exercise on the part of the Labour leader. Images of Miliband’s speech alone (he was very much the lone speaker, the unusually low-angle camera shot making him appear authoritative) worked well, but when juxtaposed with street scenes of police officers being attacked, burning bonfires and shop-sabotage, that unintended media-effect chestnut known as editing content out of context reared its threatening head.

Of course, the two sides of the ideological battlefield are clearly marked. In the blue corner, we have the Con-Dem alliance asking their peace-abidding opponents for alternatives, while subtly trying to tarnish them with the same brush as those MINDLESS VIOLENT THUGS on the militant margins; and in the red corner, Labour claiming to represent the mainstream majority (the dominant ideology) of public opinion appalled by such deep public sector cuts. Who will win? Hard to say, but put it this way, given recent polls, I have my doubts about the next General Election lasting out to 2015.

Still, television coverage of the protests/wider debate was relatively impartial, and I would disagree with some critics – especially of Sky News – who argue that the Coalition Government is still enjoying a honeymoon period vis-a-vis media scrutiny. All new administrations start off with something of an advantage (the first Blair Government basked in an especially protracted bout of sunbathing) but the present one is, and has been, under media fire almost from its inception, not least due to the 16% cuts it has imposed on the BBC.

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