Disrespect Sells: The Media and Protest

Paul is once again regularly huffing on blogospheric crackpipe. I for one welcome his relapse. Stuart White recently commented on the aftermath and media coverage of the May 26th protests in London, the TUC’s March for the Alternative. The media have, perhaps understandably, focussed on the violence of a minority of protesters – urged on by the witterings of ex-thugs.

Paul identifies Stuart’s two central claims, that the media is not forced to focus on the violence, and that in doing so the media is being fundamentally disrespectful to the 100,000 of non-violent protesters.

Paul responds that the media is forced to cover the protests in the most provocative way possible because they face the “high-powered incentive” of going bust if they do not get eye’s and ears on their product. It follows that  disrespect is inevitable when it is, as it often is, the most profitable angle.

I will return to an old theme. I think everyone commenting on the media, Stuart included, possibly Paul too, massively underestimate the extent to which the primary role of the media is to entertain, as I’ve argued before. In fact, that somebody is commenting on the media is a signal that they themselves take the media too seriously.

Disrespect sells. Stuart knows this, so I think a better reading of his post is as proposed tactic to make disrespect a less profitable journalistic angle. To some extent, I think his plan may work, as stories that are meant to be about violence are derailed and interviewers made to feel uncomfortable or look stupid.

I am not convinced it will have a big effect in aggregate, but it may well be useful for those being interviewed to have in mind Stuart‘s “That line of questioning is disrespectful, let me tell you about my experience…” Doing so disarms the media, allows you to tell your story, and weakens the narrative that democratic protests are illegitimated by the violence of a minority.

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3 thoughts on “Disrespect Sells: The Media and Protest

  1. Whilst I agree that the primary purpose of the media is to entertain (well, actually, it’s to sell advertising, based on viewership, which is maintained by entertaining), when faced with a choice between entertaining in a way which supports and reinforces the preferred narratives of senior staff, owners, major advertisers, target demographics, organised “flak” lobbies, etc, and entertaining in a way which challenges same, they will pick the former every time. And there’s also the fact that the audience’s notion of what constitutes “entertainment” is not static, but is strongly influenced by the media itself. The relationship between media product and audience expectations is reflexive.

  2. “The relationship between media product and audience expectations is reflexive.”

    Well said, that is an angle I need to work on.

    Short term, I am confident ascribing a lot of the behaviour of the media to the profit motive.

    Long term, things take a more complicated turn. For example, the fiction of political correctness is one where a series of untrue stories were published by a series of papers with a political aim or both influencing a debate and of creating a market for outrage.

  3. Well, whilst I’m fully signed up to the Herman / Chomsky five-filter model of the media, we have to remember that lot of the actual behaviour is emergent. To take your example, I don’t imagine that the “political correctness” idea was deliberately crafted – I suspect that some lazy bastard was just flailing around for a way to fill column inches after a slightly too-long liquid lunch, strung some crap together, threw it out, and saw that it stuck. The aim is not just profit, it’s profit and an easy life. I’m pretty sure that there really is a market out there for genuine investigative journalism, but it’s hard work and it risks attracting “flak”, whereas celeb gossip or Smellyface-style bullshit is both easier and safer. Sure, you might piss off some people, but not people who play golf with your boss.

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