25 November 2010

Thoughts on the student protests, policing and the media

I'm so proud of British students right now. I'm especially proud of Britain's schoolchildren and sixth formers who protested yesterday. I was especially pleased when BBC News reported on sixth formers from Cambridge protesting, though I felt a slight pang of jealousy: When I was an oppressed1 and politically aware sixth former in Cambridge I'd have loved nothing more than to march through the streets to protect my future.

Of course, the media portrayal has mostly been of the tiny number of students who committed acts of damage to property, especially that police van. What most of the mainstream media isn't reporting (in fact I think only The Guardian has) is the number of protesters who tried to protect the van. In this video you can see some of them, and there's this iconic image from The Guardian:

Girls in blue school uniforms holding hands to form a protective circle around the van. The girl in the centre of the shot has a tear drop drawn on her cheek with the caption 'cuts hurt'.

At one point the BBC reporter in the Commons explained why politicians and the media are so keen to report on the poorly behaved few rather than the well behaved majority. He was reporting to the camera what a politician had told him (but I'm afraid I didn't catch who, the trouble with live TV). I'm paraphrasing him, but not much (and only because I didn't get to write/type down his exact words):

If the protests get violent the public will lose sympathy with the protesters and support our plans for higher fees.

On one hand on our TV screens we're seeing looped footage of a few protesters smashing up an unoccupied police van (which some speculate was put there as bait) in the hope that it'll make the majority think "hmm, fees are good! Let's teach these brutal young things a lesson!" On the other hand what we're not seeing is the brutality from the other side.

Thanks to camera phones and the internet incidents of police brutality are harder to hide. And yesterday saw some unforgivable behaviour. Throughout the day there were many tweets being rapidly retweeted with content along the lines of "Officer abc123 kicked a 15 year old girl."

Some actual examples:

Why is the right-wing media barely reporting on that? Oh, yes; wouldn't want to garner support for the protesters, would we? Cruelty to children is far less important.
1 The Disability Discrimination Act was written while I was in my first year of sixth form. However it didn't come into effect until years later.