The real reasons the media didn’t cover Saturday’s anti-cuts march

Many have accused the BBC of 'bias' for failing to cover Saturday's anti-austerity march which took place in Central London. So are they right?

Many have accused the BBC of ‘bias’ for failing to cover an anti-austerity march. So are they right?

Many have accused the BBC of ‘bias’ for failing to cover Saturday’s anti-austerity march which took place in Central London.

So are they right? Well yes and no. Media bias is one factor, but there are also other less encouraging reasons which explain the media’s relative disinterest. Here are four:

Protests (on their own) rarely achieve anything

Protest has its place but on its own it rarely achieves a great deal. Paradoxically it tends to work better in those places in the world where it is forbidden: the heavy handedness of the authorities can often result in protests swelling to millions of people. In authoritarian states protest is also a revolutionary act. In liberal democratic Britain it isn’t.

That’s not to say that protest is pointless; but it would be naive to overestimate its possible impact. Much like the newspaper sellers who hang around these events, those who cling to the idea that peaceful marches in Central London can make a huge impact haven’t adapted to a changed world: online activism is far more effective at reaching a large audience than marching through the Capital. It’s also less tainted by any association with the strange people who sometimes hang around the fringes of protests, such as these people.

This specific argument has been lost

For better or worse, the anti-austerity argument was lost back in 2010. Since late 2013 a majority of people have also told pollsters that austerity is actually good for the economy: 42 per cent now say cuts are good for the economy while 37 per cent say they are bad.

One needn’t confer respectability on an idea simply because it is popular, but it does perhaps help to explain why the media failed to give Saturday’s protest the level of coverage the organisers believe it deserved. There is no longer a mainstream anti-austerity narrative. The Tories and the Lib Dems are making cuts, Labour are going to make cuts and no one who isn’t is going to get anywhere near power anytime soon. As far as the media is concerned the debate is over.

There comes a point when sound and fury aren’t enough

People want to know what the protesters would do instead, and they feel they aren’t getting it. ‘No cuts’, declared the banners on Saturday. But no cuts invariably mean tax increases. ‘Tax the rich,’ I can hear you say. Fine, lots of us would like the rich to pay a higher proportion of their income in taxation; but why pretend this is a panacea?

Peter Mandelson famously said that Labour was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”, and left-wing critics of previous Labour governments have picked up on this quote as an example of Labour servility to the well off. What critics forget is that, in a globalised economy, it’s actually quite hard to tax the rich ‘until the pips squeak’, to use former Labour chancellor Denis Healey’s phraseology, firstly because the rich would probably leave the country, taking their businesses, tax revenue and jobs with them. You may profess not to care about such things, but whether you like it or not you still need money to pay for services and the like.

As the Laffer Curve demonstrates, increasing tax rates beyond a certain point is counter-productive for raising further tax revenue. The big challenge for the left in the 21st century will be figuring out how to tax the rich progressively transnationally, because a nation state-based approach is no longer enough.

There is some media bias at work

But this is less because of a deliberate decision to exclude anti-austerity protests, and more because of the class backgrounds of many journalists. British journalism already favours the rich, powerful and glamorous over the poor, weak and unfashionable, journalist and author Peter Oborne wrote a few years back, and having little invested in the services this government is cutting means that many journalists slip effortlessly into narratives of the cuts being “inevitable” and austerity coming as a consequence of “runaway government spending”.

This problem is being exacerbated as journalism becomes the preserve of the upper-middle classes due to unpaid internships and the collapse of many local newspapers.

So yes, there is bias, but not in the way many think.

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74 Responses to “The real reasons the media didn’t cover Saturday’s anti-cuts march”

  1. Juan P

    The anti-austerity movement is alive and well in Scotland and supported by all the political parties campaigning for a yes vote.

    It’s encouraging too that more and more labour voters are supporting independence as the only viable way to at least save 5.3 million people from the desperate clutches of austerity.

    There is absolutely no point in pretending that a UK, even labour run, will see a return to left or even centre left policies.

    Not because the arguments wouldn’t find fertile ground amongst people in England and Wales but because the Labour party have given up even pretending to represent ordinary people.

    Rachel Reeves promising to be even tougher than the tories on benefits is a case in point:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M80sSJnhyYE

    Why couldn’t she just say “We voted against welfare cuts because they are wrong, will damage the economy, are inhumane, unfair, unjust and the Labour party will never support reforms that hurt the poorest and most vulnerable in society”.

    Instead New Labour are paralysed from speaking out on behalf of the unjust policies of the coalition because they are chasing the same small pool of middle England votes as the tories.
    In Scotland we have a centre left alternative party in the form of SNP who have dominated politics here for the last seven years precisely because they stand against the tories.
    The SNP are far from perfect though and Scotland needs a strong Labour party to challenge them particularly if we win our independence.
    Instead we get a Scottish Labour leader describing those on benefits as ‘something for nothing’ people and rubbishing any policy the SNP propose, even if they accord with traditional labour values, simply because of their pathological hatred of Alex Salmond.

    Also, no cuts doesn’t necessarily mean tax increases. You’ve been duped into believing the mantra of the neo liberals. An alternative to tax rises is to prioritise spending towards public services and job creation and away from defence.
    To be honest though so what if there needs to be tax rises to pay for better public services which increase education, health, reduce crime and poverty.
    We’ll all benefit for that and again there are people in Scotland and the rUK who are still willing to pay a bit more if the poorest and most vulnerable in our society are looked after.
    This whole piece is a sad apology for the demise of the left in the rUK.

    Vote Yes in 2014 and Labour in 2016, or Green, or SNP, or Socialist, or god forbid Lib Dem.
    One thing’s for sure whichever party you choose we’ll never suffer the governance of the tories again.

  2. LB

    Or far simpler. People know that government spending is up. There is no austerity as far as the state is concerned.

    The austerity is with the people who pay tax, who’ve had to fund the state.

  3. L Trotsky

    Why not just change the blog to right foot forward?

  4. Liam Fairley

    Couldn’t quite believe my eyes when I clicked on the ‘these people’ link. Unbelievable; and I bet no one batted an eyelid.

  5. Liam Fairley

    Sorry mate, that wasn’t intended just for you. Must’ve clicked reply by mistake. MInd you, given your name I’d imagine you’d agree with me.

Comments are closed.