On Saturday demonstrations took place in London in protest against the coalition government’s austerity measures. The march began at the BBC building in Portland Place with the crowd numbering 50,000. The BBC was accused by protesters of ignoring the plight of regular citizens who have been impacted by the cuts.
On social media, however, anger and accusation took another turn as demonstrators voiced their frustration at the protest being ignored by the BBC while other mainstream press organisations had picked up on the story.
As marchers listened to a range of high profile speakers outside Parliament, one of whom was Russell Brand, the hot topic of a ‘media blackout’ on the part of the BBC toward the anti-austerity protests was catching momentum online. On popular websites, like reddit, conversations were starting and word was spreading.
Eventually, the BBC posted a short 52-word article noting that austerity protests had taken place. On the back of the ‘media blackout’ conversations that were happening online, many smaller independent media outlets focused their stories on how the BBC had ignored the march.
A Comedian's 'Revolution'
It is, perhaps, unfair to charge the BBC alone with ignoring the protest when mainstream world media was not paying attention either - that was, until Russell Brand stood up. A quick search online will reveal that most of the articles about Saturday’s march published by other news outlets, focused almost entirely on the speech given by Brand. Journalistic stories, generally, sensationalised the celebrity’s presence and call for ‘revolution’ which were sincere - somewhat glossing over the wider point. Both protesters and Brand were quick to clarify the point that the protests were not about celebrity, but that the comedian’s presence brought attention to the real issue of how cuts were effecting communities across the UK.
The Debate Rages On - But it's Not About Austerity
Much has been written about what happened on Saturday, both attacking the media and in defence of it. One notable contribution to the conversation was published in the New Statesman arguing that protest and demonstration coverage is always quite cursory, and pointed to the fact that the BBC had reported the story on it’s evening news programme.
Whether news agencies covered the story or not, it appears the main driving point within the narrative for the mainstream news was the speech given by Brand, while independent new media sources picked up and ran the ‘media blackout’ line of narrative. The protesters and their cause, on the other hand, seem somewhere in between whichever version of the two stories is being told, like a spare character in a film who may actually have something to say.