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Michael the Hedgehog

Did policing become political in the 1980s, or did industrial disputes in the 80s (most notably the miners' strike) illuminate the point that policing is political? Remember that TV news footage of trouble at Orgreave in the miners' strike was altered to suggest that miners had charged at police at first, when the reverse was the case. Thanks to Twitter and other media that citizens can instantly lay their hands upon, such a journalistic sleight of hand is now much harder to achieve.

Andy Williams (@llantwit)

I agree with what you say about social and traditional media, but I'd throw another area of analysis in: news sources. Journalists usually don't rely on their own first-hand accounts, in the main, and their commitment to objectivity means that they can't give opinions on events. So they end up reporting on the opinions and actions of their sources.
Traditional media are far more likely to rely on and trust those in positions of power and authority, and are consequently they're also far more likely to quote them (hence the preponderance of cops and suits on the telly that day).
The fact they rely on these official sources far more than other sources of news means these guys also had a huge amount of influence over the way the media framed the story that day - the emphasis on a big dust-up had been pushed by the Met press office for weeks before the demos, for example. The Met press office can be trusted, they have long-standing working relationships with journos, reporters are often too over-worked to be able to look for alternative angles, and so this kind of gloopy boring stodge is the result.
They end up missing the main story of police violence completely, and only discovering it once it's surfaced via citizen media days later. In one instance, ITN had even caught the battering of Ian Tomlinson on video itself and didn't use it in its bulletins. They had to go back and find it in their own footage later on the week after the Guardian broadcast the citizen mobile-phone coverage of his push by the same policeman. On the day, Ian Tomlinson was a non-story because the very quickly assembled police PR line of his death by 'natural causes', and the violent bottling of officers trying to give him first aid was swallowed wholesale by news editors across the board.
One of the amazing things about the web-enabled citizen coverage from that day is how it showed up the narrow range of news sources routinely quoted by big media and allowed to dominate the news agenda. TV news media were especially bad in this respect (The Guardian was a bit different in it's range and depth, for example). You had a wealth of perspectives and first-hand accounts coming in from people actually experiencing things first hand - in essence being their own news sources. When you have enough of these saying the same or similar thing that can generate trust in their coverage (the wisdom of crowds, indeed).
You mention that these accounts are biased in their way, too. That's true. The big difference is that they wouldn't claim to be unbiased. ITN and Sky News on the other hand do - they would always argue that what they give is balanced unbiased coverage. The web 2 citizen coverage on the day shows this up to be absurd. And it does this by giving news audiences a glimpse of the vast sea of relevant unofficial news sources not being tapped by most of the traditional media players during major news events.
Thanks for your post - the politics of citizen media in this case are fascinating, I think.


I've worked with activists in New York who have been using technology in interesting ways for years to mobilise people in peaceful protests. Some innovative methods of reporting facts included attaching cameras to balloons that could give an real idea of the numbers in the crowd and a cyclist who you could text message - his bike would chalk your message on the sidewalk.

This article from 2004 is a good example of how technologies have been used to provide alternative reports to mainstream media, and how the intelligence gathered by activists can be used in legal cases to protect their rights but also aid the police in gathering intelligence:


@Michael - yes you could say, well of course policing has _always_ been political. But I think when, as with the miners strike, we see it being used very obviously as a political tool against people then it enters a different domain.
@Andy - you're right, the objectivity stance is actually not neutral often, but is one that can be manipulated by those in positions of authority. The protests marked, for me anyway, a real historical moment when the conventional press becomes secondary because of the way they need to operate. This isn't always the case, for some stories the 'top down' approach is best, but for these types of events, it seems that bottom up gave a truer picture of the day, and as you say, the traditional media have been playing rather embarrassing catch up ever since.
@Laura - thanks, fascinating stuff. I think what we are seeing now is the next generation of this - it isn't about activists but about the ubiquity of these technologies by the general population. As Clay Shirky argues, it's when a technology becomes commonplace that it becomes really interesting.

Andy Williams (@llantwit)

But we shouldn't get carried away either, in my opinion. The democratic potential of increasing technology ownership and access to publishing/broadcast platforms is still largely only that: potential.
There is a serious digital divide in terms of ownership, and more seriously, there is a digital skills divide which means that those who use web 2.0 tools, especially for news-related stuff, are in a serious socio-economic minority (also a gender minority - it's stil mainly blokes of a certain age and class who submit online news related UGC).

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