Using the media#
There has been much debate among campaign and direct action groups about the use (or not) of the traditional media. This booklet, not surprisingly, is to help those who wish to use the traditional media, and to set up their own. Whether we like it or not, the Traditional media for a while longer. It's one way to reach hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of people quickly, so it's worth planning a strategy for how to do it; especially as our opponents will be using it to spread their version of events anyway, whether we choose to or not. Some of the coverage of events will be the typical bigoted knee-jerk journalism we have come to expect from the Traditional media. However, where there is constructive involvement from their side, and assuming we can produce a coherent, reasoned message, there is hope of a public response. Many people are slowly becoming aware of the bigger picture and growing disillusioned with the endless crap spouted by politicians and the establishment - Squatting being a prime example(actually we need a new more current example) , where even the tabloids obligingly sported banner headlines about 'Frankenstein foods'. Working with the (traditional) media is about being tactical and effective, but in its nature does involve an element of political compromise.
(To add it's very effective to embrace contemporary media)
What are we up against?#
Every traditional media outlet shares the same principal aim: to expand its share of the market. It does this by seeking to grab and hold people's attention. This is why the media concentrates so much on events, especially trivial, flashy and colourful ones, rather than issues. Most journalists are convinced that people can't concentrate for more than a few seconds and really want to hear about some overpaid footballer’s new hairstyle or Justin Bebber, but are bored by mere trivia such as 1 million people marching against the war or communities rising up against multinationals who are polluting their local area. On the face of it, this is a major disadvantage for us, as our aim is to make people aware of big, important and usually fairly complex issues that can't be summed up in a soundbite.
Many outlets have a secondary aim: of pandering to the prejudices of their proprietors. Most large news-gathering organisations are run, funded and advertised in by billionaires and money-grabbing multinationals, which makes life still harder for us. In practice, there are some outlets we simply have
the Daily Mail, for instance, unless you're appealling to narrow minded knee-jerk nationalism or one of the few issues they support - GM being a prime example. The Sunday Times has been waging war on protesters for years, and has no qualms about peddling utter bollocks in order to discredit the movement. On several occasions its journalists have attempted to infiltrate protest groups, or tried to secure incriminating information while pretending to be sympathetic. Avoid this paper at all costs. But there is a surprising number of opportunities for making use of other parts of the right-wing media: some of the things that occasionally slip past the editors' noses at the Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, for example, are pretty unexpected. While their editors and proprietors may be raving Tories, some of the journalists are reasonable people, trying to make the best of an unreasonable situation. Newspapers are allowed to be partisan, but the broadcast media are legally obliged to be balanced and fair. In practice, as we know, this isn't always the case, and there are certain programmes, such as Littlejohn, or Central Weekend Live which are best avoided - they are the broadcast equivalent of The Sun. Don't appear on any programme produced or directed by Martin Durkin, the deranged far right libertarian who made the Against Nature series. More importantly, the broadcast media's concept of fairness is a narrow one: as long as both Labour and Tory politicians have their say, balance is seen to have been achieved, even if the view from Westminster is just a tiny part of the political spectrum. Most broadcast outlets are also very conscious of the views of their advertisers, and are even more trivial than the print media. The result is, once again, conservatism: broadcast journalists are terrified of telling their audience something it doesn't know already.
More content on this subject to add
Playing the game
All media, but especially broadcast, tend to have a set of rules - a formula for what they mistakenly believe to be balanced and reasoned reporting. How many times have you seen a besuited exec, politician or 'expert' calmly explaining why the latest McShellbury's mega drive thru has to be built, supposedly for the good of the community, while journos conduct in depth interviews with opponents of the scheme regarding the difficulties of personal hygiene while tree sitting? In short, if the media isn't playing politics with people in suits then it’s ridiculing everyone else’s opinions. Sadly, our job is to try to break through this and put ourselves across as more informed than the other side. It can be done, but you need to play them at their own game - yes, you may feel compromised and cheapened by playing by their rules, but you can do it and keep your integrity.
It's not all bad, we do have some advantages: Integrity. We're genuine people, doing things because we believe they’re right, not slimy hired hands pandering to the establishment for personal gain. This shows when we allow it to: an open and straightforward appeal to commonsense can cut through the clamour of self-interest and spin-doctoring with a powerful resonance. When we keep our message uncluttered and get straight to the point, we can be devastatingly effective.
Articulating public sentiment. People are increasingly prepared to listen to what we have to say: many know in their hearts that the world is pretty screwed up, and could be very much better. Activists using the media need to be able to persuade Jill Public to agree with them - the way to do this is to show you’re protecting the environment and community against the interest of money grabbing developers and politicians with pockets full of brown envelopes.
Inherent media friendliness
We're colourful, fun, outlandish and outrageous. Much as television executives might claim to hate us, television cameras love us.
Overall Media Strategy
Everyone has a different approach to media work, but there are some general themes which can be useful: - Firstly figure out whether your action qualifies as a 'story' for the nationals. To be a story you need to be saying or doing something which when written up or broadcast will flog papers or stop people turning off the TV. It helps to be counter-intuitive, but also to have a new angle on a running story. Don't do stunts 4 specifically for the media - they're too transparent.
- Far too often, media work tends to be tacked on as an afterthought to an action, with the result that there's either too little of it or the reporting is dominated by the story from the other side’s point of view - any organisation/corporation/political structure of a reasonable size will employ a full time PR/media officer or team, who's sole task is to portray them as a nice friendly caring setup which has everyone's best interests at heart. They will dominate the media coverage of your event if you give them half a chance, and they’re usually good at what they do: after all they're paid to be! Ensure you take as much care with media work as you do with tunneling or action planning - you want to educate the public and gain greater support, not risk the media machine alienating you even further.
- Out of the group of people who sort your media work you will need to appoint a single person as media 'co-ordinator'. You'll have to decide whether to have a single spokesperson or several - but decide this in advance, and have a single person managing press enquiries, passing them on if necessary. This person must almost always be based off-site, and (sorry to state the obvious) be confident at dealing with the media. Not everyone is good at this, the ideal person should be confident, sociable and not afraid to open their mouth.
- Use contacts you already have. Call journalists you've made friends with and ask them if they're interested or to pass you on to others. Activists often say 'never trust a journalist', but at some stage you'll have to. Although it's always difficult to talk up an action without completely giving the game away (especially on the phone) you have to try. Otherwise meet journalists you trust face to face. It's in their interests not to tell the cops and spoil the story. Get sympathetic journalists and photographers to come along on your action in an exclusive group (3-4 max) - don't tell them exactly where you're going - create an atmosphere of secrecy and excitement - journos love to think they're in the Famous Five. Use activist-journalists. Although national media may not turn up to your action initially, they may well get interested afterwards and want pictures or video. Make sure you have someone covering this - and make sure they’re sufficiently skilled to carry it off.
- Timing is critical. You need to give the media enough notice of your action for them to respond, but not too much so as they forget. For a big action send out warning press releases a week and 3 days before the event. Look in the section on press releases for more info. The day of the week will also make a difference as regards media coverage. Friday is the worst day, Sunday the best, because it's generally short of news. The GM crop trashing at Watlington near Oxford took place on a Sunday afernoon, and received coverage on all the national TV news bulletins that evening and nearly all of the daily press the next day (with most of the coverage reasonably positive). If you can, try to give journos their story by early afternoon - by 5-6pm most of the make-up of the next days papers is already decided. If you really want your action to be ignored by the media, do it on Budget day or when some foreign head of state is visiting - you need to look ahead and see what other events are going to happen that day. Also look out for other actions - the press will not usually cover more than one direct action story in one day.