People’s assembly march: The media blackout that wasn’t


The People’s Assembly demonstration through London at the weekend was designed to make the public aware of the social and economic impact of austerity.

Instead it has had the unintended consequence of re-igniting the debate about the nature of the media in Britain.

Cries of ’blackout’ and ’censorship’ have rung out across social media with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) bearing the brunt for the perceived conspiracy.

A photo on the US Uncut Facebook page with the accompanying words: “50,000 people in London protest austerity outside the BBC. BBC completely ignores them,” has been shared 51,800 times.

This kind of misinformation underlines the need for professional journalism to play a bigger role in civil society, particularly when distinguishing between fact and opinion.

The BBC News Channel did indeed cover the demonstration, at 8 p.m the same evening and on Facebook the next day with a short video, responding to complainants made by some of the demonstrators who felt they were given a poor show.

Some licence payers maybe outraged at the priority given to the demonstration but that is a far cry away from a “media blackout.”

Even more ridiculous was the suggestion by some that this is a good reason to abolish the licence fee itself and effectively end the role of the BBC.

The principle of the public service broadcasting model is key to combating the concentration of ownership of the media into fewer and fewer wealthy hands.

Indeed the BBC could argue that its model allowed it to respond in the way that it did by providing additional coverage of the march, however small, following a series of complaints.
It is certainly not perfect but it is something to build on.

Nevertheless what about the rest of the broadcast and print media, most of which is privately owned. Did they join the “blackout” of the demo? Apparently not:

• ITV did a small bulletin and a short web post
• The Guardian gave it a full page online
• The Independent covered it
• The Huffington Post covered it
• The Express covered it
• And RT and the cooperatively owned Morning Star newspaper gave it the biggest coverage of all

The monolith of the mass media is also not as powerful as it once was. We are awash with respected alternative media outlets such as Equal Times which can utilise social media to get to a wider audience.

Campaigning energies could be instead spent on building bigger demos and actions that demand undivided attention and anything left over could be used to support alternatives to improve pluralism in Britain.