Was it a riot or a peaceful demo?

December 10th, 2010

Television viewers all over the world may have had difficulty in deciding whether yesterday’s London demo over tuition fees was a protest by the nation’s students and school children or mob violence orchestrated by a few extremists using rent-a-mob tactics. Even journalists covering events like this have great difficulty making up their minds. They can only see one small part of the scene.

But the Daily Mail found it easy to make up it’s mind. This is the headline from Mail Online.

Pure terror in her eyes: Charles and Camilla surrounded by baying tuition fees mob who attacked their car screaming ‘Off with their heads’

Read the story and look at the many photos and decide for yourselves just how much evidence there is to support this angle. Of course, we expect it from the Daily Mail which has been training its journalists, since it was founded by the first Harmsworth in over one hundred years ago, to distort the truth. The online version produced by the fourth generation of the family, has adopted the tactics to the new media, has achieved outstanding success in the lost two years outstripping all its rivals and now attracting over 30 million readers.

That success is partly to do with the sensationalism but also because the Mail, unlike most of the other tabloids, intersperses the sexy bits with lots of factual reporting. So it matters.

As does the reporting of the heavy television channels and the serious newspapers, which are too ready to talk about ‘rioting’ and all of which highlighted the attack on Charles and Camilla. But even for the tiny minority off the main demo who were involved in that, it does not seem that terrible. They rocked the Rolls, broke a window and splashed paint on the mudguard. Some shouted ‘Off with his head’. But no-one popped a petrol bomb through the open window.

The television pictures make it clear that there was ample heavy-handed behaviour by the police as well as one sticks thrown and metal barriers pushed by the protesters.

But for an overall verdict I offer the police version, which reports that ten policemen and 38 protesters ended up in hospital. Given that protesters as far as possible look after their own injured, because they don’t want them to get arrested, the probability is that civilian casualties were far larger.

The police won this battle. But whether they are winning the war for public confidence in these troubled times is much more doubtful.

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