Article published: Friday, January 28th 2011
Yesterday the Manchester Evening News published a stern warning from a Greater Manchester Police (GMP) senior officer to those attending Saturday’s protest to behave themselves – a somewhat strange intervention considering that in last year’s protests most disturbances seemed to be committed by the police. In doing this is the MEN reporting on real ‘news’ or simply acting as the media megaphone of the police in an attempt to intimidate?
The Manchester Evening News played to its strengths yesterday, with three of its major news stories, including its front page, consisting of trial reports. True, they had a worthy second page article about a bus fare hike for school children, but they managed to spin out a substantially more prominent article on the facing page about Blackley MP Graham Stringer wanting Alex Ferguson made into a Lord. Tucked away at the end was the fact that Stringer has consistently campaigned for the Lords to be abolished – and his somewhat bizarre comment, seeming to negate the rest of the story, that Ferguson’s appointment would “be the first good reason not to abolish the place”.
Following this there were two whole pages devoted to Coronation Street’s poor showing at the National Television Awards and another thinly-veiled advert for television posing as a news article – this time about Will Young appearing in a “spooktacular” TV series about ghosts in a ‘haunted’ house in Manchester.
Anyone who accidently kept reading past Young’s musings on ghosts (“My own house, I think, has got a presence. I haven’t seen it but my brother has and my dog also does”) may have found the headline on the next page: “Police plan huge operation to contain student protest”.
Since no press release was issued by the force outlining their plans to clamp down on – sorry, “contain” – this Saturday’s march, it seems likely that someone from MEN was invited to a station for a chat and a nice cup of tea, which is certainly a better prospect than being tasered while having an epileptic fit. Clearly the primary skill asked of MEN writers is the ability to write down what someone else tells them, since the only person spoken to – Assistant Chief Constable Neil Wain – was quoted word for word in half of the article in which he subtly threatened anyone planning to attend the protest. No organiser or protester was quoted, nor was mention made of the fact the protest was also called by the national Trades Union Congress (TUC) who will be holding a rally in Platt’s Fields. As one reader’s comment pointed out, “another PR victory for the police”, a victory made easier by MEN’s enthusiastic drive to become nothing more than a right-wing TV guide.
Wain conceded that the last protests in Manchester “passed peacefully”, a matter we consider unfortunate for the police considering their repeated efforts to make last November’s protest as violent as possible. Despite this concession, they are going to a staggering amount of effort to overpolice Saturday’s march, as MEN cheerfully listed: horses, surveillance equipment including a helicopter, dogs, and the prospect of kettling. No mention is made of students’ complaints of violence at last November’s protest, the charging of police horses into a crowd sitting down and including young teenagers, or the fact that the route was changed unilaterally and at the last minute. All of this information could have been discovered by picking up a phone and asking the Student Union to comment, although perhaps the line was occupied with someone asking Will Young about ghosts (“I don’t know about ghosts to look at but I do believe in ghost spirits and energies”).
Nor is it mentioned in the article that well over 200 police turned out at December’s protest, which only saw around 1000 students on the streets. Instead, MEN repeated the claim made by GMP that it will cost £100,000 to police, clearly an agreed tactic in the force’s current public relations strategy, as recently Chief Constable Peter Fahy claimed that each protest cost the same amount. As he said at the time, “officers policing protests are not chasing burglars”, although as anyone who has been a victim of burglary will know, it’s not as if they’re great at it any other time: the point, Fahy, is to catch them.
Let’s put this in perspective: GMP paid exactly the same amount this time last year to send officers on a story telling course. There is also the pressing question of why, if Wain concedes the protests have been peaceful, this much money needs to be spent on “containment”: could it possibly be because the police are finally facing budget cuts, after years of funding increases? Could they resent having to cut 1400 jobs, and have crudely decided that wasting their money on policing peaceful protests kills two birds with one stone? As Manchester Confidential suggested, Fahy’s statement seems intent on scaring the government into rethinking the cuts in light of a rise in protests, but Wain goes one further, suggesting that “extremists” wanted to “hijack” the march in order to “intimidate our communities”. If anyone is being intimidating it is Wain and Fahy, attempting to scare the local community into thinking that young protesters, rather than fighting against the bleak prospect of years of unemployment and being unable to afford university or even college, are either leaving the city vulnerable to a crime wave or worse yet will set out to terrify the residents of Rusholme. What possible benefit attacking restaurants, off-licences and shisha cafes could bring Wain does not suggest.
MEN gains from this relationship too, of course. As former high-ranking MET officer Brian Paddick pointed out on Radio 4’s World Tonight on Wednesday, the MET are likely dragging their feet over the ongoing phone hacking scandal because they rely on certain newspapers to give them a good image. The newspapers, in return, gain quick access to easy and exclusive stories, a symbiotic relationship outlined yesterday in an excellent piece in The Guardian.
So maybe in light of this we shouldn’t criticise GMP sending their officers on a story telling course, since judging by their PR output, as retold verbatim by the spineless media, it was clearly great value for money. Perhaps when 1400 of them get sacked they can write for the MEN about Coronation Street and ghosts.
The comments are closed.