50,000 people assembled in Parliament Square to protest against austerity: why wasn’t the BBC interested?2
June 22, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith
Despite the complaints I have made about the dangers to pluralism in this country (click here and here), I am still very proud of how open we are to differing views – particularly ones that differ from the government’s policies. So I think the march and rally organised by the People’s Assembly against austerity measures that took place yesterday, taking an estimated 50,000 people from the BBC’s Broadcasting House to the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, was just the kind of event a strong and confident democracy should accommodate.
Speakers at the march included Caroline Lucas – the Green Party MP, Russell Brand and the journalist Owen Jones. Jones said “Who is really responsible for the mess this country is in? Is it the Polish fruit pickers or the Nigerian nurses? Or is it the bankers who plunged it into economic disaster – or the tax avoiders? It is selective anger. The Conservatives are using the crisis to push policies they have always supported. For example, the sell-off of the NHS. They have built a country in which most people who are in poverty are also in work.”
I am quoting Jones in detail because yesterday highlighted quite a major problem. An important part of that democracy is the mass media, and no media is more ‘mass’ than the BBC. Yet, the BBC seemed not to have noticed a march of 50,000 people starting outside their front door and ending outside Parliament. The march didn’t feature on a single BBC news bulletin and I simply cannot find it on the BBC website. This is a public service broadcaster. Surely that is ridiculous? Worse, I can’t find much mention of it in any national newspaper. Even the Guardian put the march quite low down their news list. Almost surreally, Russia Today, a sort of international mouthpiece for the Russian government (not big fans of anti-government demonstrations themselves) had to rely on pictures from twitter for their report on the demonstration as the national press were devoid of them. How can this be?
Worse, when the Guardian asked Number 10 Downing street for a response – a spokesman “declined to comment”. Declined to comment? Come on! At least trot out some pat line about deficits and debt or something. Are you seriously saying Number 10 that the points made yesterday are not even worthy of response? Who or what is worthy of response? People who can afford expensive lobbyists? People who can fund high-profile “think-tanks” to release reports that support their agenda? People who donate to the government parties?
The People’s assembly represent people who can’t afford lobbyists, lawyers, think tanks and to donate to political parties, they provide a voice – in the words of the open letter written when they were set up – for those “millions of people in Britain who face an impoverished and uncertain year as their wages, jobs, conditions and welfare provision come under renewed attack by the government.” It pointed out that anti-austerity views “while increasingly popular, are barely represented in Parliament.”
Owen Jones – who has at least tried to offer an alternative programme for the government (click here to read that), has had ended up at a very young age acting as a spokesman, lawyer, lobbyist etc for the dispossessed, but he must be banging his head against a wall this morning, and I sympathise with him.
Pressure groups like the People’s Assembly are supposed to provide a “pressure valve” for society, allowing people to let off steam in a peaceful manner, allowing their voice to be heard. The truth is that although they spoke yesterday, it seems increasingly apparent that no-one is listening. I worry that if these peaceful protests are ignored, it is becoming less and less surprising if non-peaceful protests are being thought of. We are at the “first they ignore you” stage, but these things develop. Pluralism as a political concept is where power is dispersed amongst competing groups – this morning I feel UK pluralism has become just that little bit less balanced, and that is a worry for us all.
p.s. I have ignored the contribution of Russell Brand for a reason – I’m sure the People’s Assembly thought having him would be something that raised their profile, but in fact his appearance possibly gave the mainstream a reason to ignore what was happening – a narcissistic multi-millionaire who has openly boasted of not voting and asked others not to vote is not going to be as effective an anti-austerity campaigner as they may have thought.