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Tuesday April 20, 2004 20:45 by Mark Paul - not affiliated 086 3426630
As a freelance journalist with an interest in anti-globalisation issues, I wrote an article about the tabloid coverage and hype in the run-up to Mayday. Two of the Sunday broadsheets initially showed interest in it, but then rejected it upon reading it.
I don't subscribe to the idea that all journalists are spineless etc. etc. etc.......... However, I do feel that it was a balanced article. Yet the media still wouldn't touch it.
As a part of the media, I feel that there is the need for reasonable, sensible debate on the role the mainstream media plays, how it can be improved, and comments from other sections of the media would be a good start.
Recent tabloid headlines such as ‘ABSOLUTE MAY-HEM’ have heightened speculation that Dublin anti-globalisation protests will turn violent on May 1st. Mark Paul looks at whether these stories are justified, or whether they are actually helping to increase tensions.
Laurence Cox doesn’t appear to be a violent person. He is softly spoken and mild mannered. But the organisation that he is a spokesperson for, Dublin Grassroots, has been accused by the tabloid media of encouraging ultra-violent demonstrations. It is one of a number of groups organising Mayday protests on the EU ‘Day of Welcomes’ for the accession states.
The recent news stories have centred on tabloid claims that a group of British anarchists, known as the ‘Wombles’, have been invited to Dublin by protest organisers to wreak havoc on the authorities. Following violent clashes in recent years in Seattle, Prague, London and Genoa, the stories have predicted that the same will happen in Dublin this year.
“Violence is a risk with any public event when you have large groups of people in any one place”, Mr Cox says, “but I am not deeply worried about the possibility of violence from protestors this Mayday”. He is more worried about what he believes will be provocation from the Garda Siochana on the day. “None of the groups organising the protests are planning violence. However, the police and the army are planning for violence against the protestors.”
An Ireland on Sunday story in February of this year claimed that its reporters had ‘infiltrated’ a secret meeting of Irish anarchists in a Dublin pub. The organisers, however, claim that it was a public meeting open to all and that those attending were well aware of the presence of the journalists. The same article also claimed that the British ‘Wombles’ have close links to the Kurdish communist group, the PKK, who themselves have links to terrorism. However, it is unclear where the justification for this claim lies.
The Wombles’ website says: "We promote anarchist ideas, libertarian solidarity, autonomous self-organisation and humour". They are widely known for bizarrely wearing oversized padding, helmets and white overalls at demonstrations. They do advocate the use of “direct action”, but their links to violence remain unclear. What is clear is that, as an anarchist organisation, to actually plan violence in advance of a demonstration would be against their autonomous nature.
Over the last two weeks, both the Irish edition of the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday edition of the Irish Star have carried similar stories warning of what they say will be an invasion of thousands of militant protestors for the Mayday demonstrations.
The Sunday Mirror and the Ireland on Sunday stories quote anonymous government and security sources as saying that they expect the situation to become extremely violent. However, the protestors claim that the media is being drip-fed these quotes in order to undermine their right to a peaceful protest.
Mr Cox says “the motivation of the sources behind these scare-stories is to instil panic amongst the public, to turn them against us. They are creating a climate of fear that is totally unnecessary”. He continued: “Everybody has the fundamental right to protest, even those of us who disagree with the current shape of the EU”.
Although he seems genuine in his assertions that he doesn’t want violence, it is worth noting that anarchists, who it is expected will make up the bulk of the protestors, are not fundamentally opposed to the use of what they call ‘direct action’. This is a loose term used to describe forms of protest that are usually illegal, but not necessarily violent. ‘Direct action’ could, for example, take the form of traffic disruption or a sit-down protest.
Mr Cox says that the tactic will be employed in Dublin in the form of a noisy protest outside Farmleigh House, where the heads of the existing EU member states, together with the heads of the ten accession states, will be having a gala dinner. Other demonstrations not organised by anarchist groups will also take place on Mayday, including the Socialist Workers Party’s ‘Another Europe is Possible’ demonstration.
But it is the vague meaning of the term ‘direct action’ that, according to the Star on Sunday, can lead to it being used as a justification for violence by some protestors. In the past, there have been clashes between small, breakaway groups of protestors and the authorities at anti-globalisation demonstrations, such as that seen in London on Mayday, 2001. On that occasion, millions of pounds worth of damage was done to business premises on the protestor’s route.
“We will try to ensure that no members of our group will be involved in violence”, says Mr Cox, “it is the Gardai who are the biggest threat to a peaceful protest”. At a Reclaim the Streets demonstration on Dame Street in 2002, gardai were filmed beating protestors, and were accused by many, including the National Union of Journalists, of using unnecessary force and inflaming the situation.
On the subject of the media speculation, he is unequivocal in his condemnation of the recent tabloid stories. “The media hype undermines the right to protest”, he says. “I would like to think that the newspapers involved are serious about not wanting violence. But they are winding people up and creating a situation where the Gardai will overreact. It would be great to see them discussing the real issues instead of making up scare stories.”
A recent Grassroots press release denouncing the tabloid media coverage went practically unnoticed last week. In it, the group says that the stories are false and challenges the anonymous sources to publicly debate their claims about the possibility of extreme violence. So far, this has not happened.
If Mr Cox is typical of the protestors on Mayday and it passes off relatively peacefully then one might assume that the tabloid hype has been at best, unfair and at worst, inflammatory. If their headline predictions come true and Dublin becomes the scene for violent clashes between demonstrators and police, then the image of the anti-globalisation movement will be badly damaged in the eyes of the Irish people. Either way, the role of the tabloids in creating the now inevitable tense atmosphere on Mayday still needs to be examined.