Even if you do add in Russell Brand, it doesn't necessarily make your march newsworthy. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

No, the media didn’t ignore your anti-austerity march – it just wasn’t that interesting

There’s no organised “media blackout” on reporting protest marches. More often than not, they just aren’t that much of a story.

Another protest march, another set of howls that there has been a “media blackout” to prevent the reporting of marches. It’s become an article of faith among the hard left in the UK that the BBC in particular has been ordered not to cover protest marches.

First off, as usual with these events, photos of legions of marchers circulate, along with tweets along the lines of “HOW IS THIS LEGION OF REVOLUTIONARIES NOT NEWS, BBC?!? THERE ARE MILLIONS OF US! #Mediablackout”

These fall into two broad categories – firstly, and most commonly, the shot of a march from years ago which had bigger numbers, like this one, which was tweeted hundreds of times alongside grumpy comments. That’s actually from a march in 2011; you can tell instantly it wasn’t from Saturday, because the trees have no leaves, but Saturday’s march was held on midsummer’s day. Just as a clue, retweeting that sort of fake image hurts rather than helps your claims of relevance.

The second is the shot taken from among the crowd – which really is from the right march, but shows the crowd without actually showing the scale. The one I linked to is from Trafalgar Square; at first glance it looks like a big march, but there’s probably 80 people crammed into that shot. It’s not intentional fakery, but it’s naive to think the fact you are surrounded by people means that the march is newsworthy.

Secondly, as usual with these events – it’s not true that there was no coverage. There was coverage; on both BBC national and local radio, and on the BBC News Channel in the evening news, from 8pm onwards. It’s the British “Broadcasting” corporation – the clue is in the name. The inability to find something on the BBC news website does not mean there is a “media conspiracy”.

These demos, and the complaints of a blackout happen all the time – take the Manchester anti-cuts march. It’s an article of faith among the left that this was the subject of a “media blackout” – so much so that Andy Burnham wrote to Ofcom to complain the coverage was “cursory”. Yet here is a supercut of all the BBC coverage of the day – including the BBC political editor talking about the protestor’s specific demands. On the day, there were two articles on the march on the front page of the BBC website – but still, the myth of the “media blackout” persists.

The wackier end of these conspiracy media blackout theories include the idea that “armed police were deployed to stop us“ – usually posted by people unaware that the police around parliament habitually carry guns, so that’s not unusual. There’s also the usual cry that “Russia Today gave it loads of airtime”. It just goes to demonstrate that the more people tell you “the mainstream media are lying to us”, the more they are probably lying to you.

If you buy into this narrative – as supported by the Morning Star – then all that stops the revolution from happening is the fact people just don’t know about what the Tories are doing. If only the BBC would run an article with the full text of Russell Brand’s speech on the front page of its website, then within 24 hours the country would be at a standstill, with barricades in the street, and within a week, Owen Jones would be prime minister, passing the Socialist Utopia (Creation Of) Bill.

That’s just not true, guys.

It’s not that the general public don’t know about assorted cuts – those are covered by the press on a daily basis. It’s not that the general public don’t disapprove of the cuts – there’s plenty of evidence of that, too. Yet Eoin Clarke still asked “Please give me 1 good reason why the BBC News Website has not covered this anti-Austerity march in London today?”

Here’s the reason – the government don’t need to order a media blackout because the sad truth is “Lefties march in moderate numbers, again, and then go home, again”, isn’t much of a story. That’s it. That’s why the BBC didn’t cover it.

It’s not new – demonstrations happens with those numbers three or four times a year in London alone, usually with the same people carrying the same banners. The metropolitan police tell me they don’t keep a log of how many, but that they “facilitate thousands of demonstrations in London every year”.

People marching – even if there are 50,000 of them – just isn’t a big story. Yes, it’s enough to win one parliamentary constituency, but it’s not a revolution. Sure, BBC editors are being selective in their coverage – but that’s an editor’s job.

It’s often said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. People need to wake up to the fact that marches, for all their symbolic value to the left, just aren’t that relevant or newsworthy anymore. Even if you do add in Russell Brand.

Willard Foxton is a card-carrying Tory, and in his spare time a freelance television producer, who makes current affairs films for the BBC and Channel 4. Find him on Twitter as @WillardFoxton.

Getty
Show Hide image

For the Ukip press officer I slept with, the European Union was Daddy

My Ukip lover just wanted to kick against authority. I do not know how he would have coped with the reality of Brexit.

I was a journalist for a progressive newspaper.

He was the press officer for the UK Independence Party.

He was smoking a cigarette on the pavement outside the Ukip conference in Bristol.

I sat beside him. It was a scene from a terrible film. 

He wore a tweed Sherlock Holmes coat. The general impression was of a seedy-posh bat who had learned to talk like Shere Khan. He was a construct: a press officer so ridiculous that, by comparison, Ukip supporters seemed almost normal. He could have impersonated the Queen Mother, or a morris dancer, or a British bulldog. It was all bravado and I loved him for that.

He slept in my hotel room, and the next day we held hands in the public gallery while people wearing Union Jack badges ranted about the pound. This was before I learned not to choose men with my neurosis alone. If I was literally embedded in Ukip, I was oblivious, and I was no kinder to the party in print than I would have been had I not slept with its bat-like press officer. How could I be? On the last day of the conference, a young, black, female supporter was introduced to the audience with the words – after a white male had rubbed the skin on her hand – “It doesn’t come off.” Another announcement was: “The Ukip Mondeo is about to be towed away.” I didn’t take these people seriously. He laughed at me for that.

After conference, I moved into his seedy-posh 18th-century house in Totnes, which is the counterculture capital of Devon. It was filled with crystal healers and water diviners. I suspect now that his dedication to Ukip was part of his desire to thwart authority, although this may be my denial about lusting after a Brexiteer who dressed like Sherlock Holmes. But I prefer to believe that, for him, the European Union was Daddy, and this compulsion leaked into his work for Ukip – the nearest form of authority and the smaller Daddy.

He used to telephone someone called Roger from in front of a computer with a screen saver of two naked women kissing, lying about what he had done to promote Ukip. He also told me, a journalist, disgusting stories about Nigel Farage that I cannot publish because they are libellous.

When I complained about the pornographic screen saver and said it was damaging to his small son, he apologised with damp eyes and replaced it with a photo of a topless woman with her hand down her pants.

It was sex, not politics, that broke us. I arrived on Christmas Eve to find a photograph of a woman lying on our bed, on sheets I had bought for him. That was my Christmas present. He died last year and I do not know how he would have coped with the reality of Brexit, of Daddy dying, too – for what would be left to desire?

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era