When it comes to anti-fascist protests police have developed a system of manipulating media coverage and trying to disguise support for anti-fascist causes. Last weekend in Bristol provided some textbook examples of police spin.
On the 14th of July a march by the racists of the English Defence League (EDL) was countered by a We are Bristol protest. The anti-fascist protest was a massive success and the EDL have pledged not to return. Yet the Avon and Somerset Police account of the day has been designed to completely underplay the effectiveness of the counter demo, and has attempted to disguise the lengths the force went to undermine the demo.
The anti-racist demo had been planned and organised to take place in the Fountains, a central area of Bristol. When locals organise against fascists that come into their communities it is usual to attempt to organise in a place that can be seen as an important part of their city. Racists like the EDL love to think that they can take over a town and drive people to hide in their homes. The symbolism of a central site is an important one, and key to ensuring far-right groups do not return.
Which must be why the police went to great lengths to stop the demo happening there. The day before the protest was due to take place they declared it a no go zone. Stating in a press release the day before the demo that:
‘The We Are Bristol march begins atCastlePark. People should not gather at the fountains. There will be a visible police presence in the area to help guide people to the We Are Bristol gathering point.’
The police were so concerned that the EDL would lose a PR point if the people who opposed them were able to claim this central point of protest that on the day they denied any protest had happened at the Fountains. In fact a large group of protesters did gather there and held speeches and a rally before going on to march.
This lead to a bit of a headache in the police’s press office as they had to simultaneously claim :
‘This afternoon the English Defence League and We Are Bristol demonstrations took place around Queen Square and Castle Park.’
Whilst also reporting that:
‘We have arrested a second man inBristolCitycentre in relation to the planned protests in the City centre. The 49 year old man was arrested for unlawful assembly at the fountains.’
Apparently an assembly that didn’t take place resulted in a man being arrested for taking part in that assembly. One man presumably unlawfully assembled with himself.
Several other regular Police phrases creep into its PR, as well as quotes it provided to the BBC.
On its website Avon and Somerset Police Assistant Chief Constable Anthony Bangham says:
‘This has been a challenging day and I would like to thank the community for their patience and support.’
This is a default position for police PR, the implication here is that the ‘community’ is somehow separate from the people who protested against the EDL. In reality most of the 800+ people who turned out to show opposition to racism were residents of the city.
Avon and Somerset Police, where honesty has a different meaning…
The local BBC reported that ‘Avon and Somerset Police said “some missiles have been thrown”’. The use of quote marks is telling, because although the BBC reporter feels obliged to repeat the police line, ‘missiles’ is in fact police spin for any object thrown, it could mean an empty paper cup, or water bottle and often means one of the lightweight sticks used for placards. ‘Missiles’ can be used to make any of these things sound like a serious weapon, though if a really dangerous object is thrown the police are quick to note what it is.
All police forces are used to having an unhealthy relationship with the press. In most instances local papers and news media depend on the police for stories and updates on crimes and public events. However it is a relationship police are not above abusing, so when a force such as Somerset and Avon decide to misrepresent the facts often journalists feel obliged to cover things from a police perspective.
This had lead to an incredibly unhealthy situation, where police use the media to cover up defeats for the EDL, as often they see these as defeats for the police themselves.
But as this means smearing whole communities and spreading lies that increasing numbers of people can easily identify by going on line, seeing Youtube footage, photos, what their friends are saying on Facebook and a thousand other ways, it is a strategy that the police will come to regret.
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This post first appeared on Fromoutsidethewhale | Journalism In The Spirit Of George Orwell, Paul Foot And Studs Terkel, please read the originial post: here