The truth behind the furore around the NUS demo

My eyes don’t possess the scope of a camera lofted by a police helicopter, nor can my ears compete with the clarity captured by a hundred microphones.

During the NUS organised Demolition 2010, however, I did manage to gauge a general consensus of attitudes from 50,000 protesters, something that the mainstream media neglected to do.


Much of the media focused on the violence at Millbank Tower, despite the march being overwhelmingly peaceful. Photo: Huseyin Kishi

Excitement, anxiety, optimism, hope, all of these seemed to pervade the very atmosphere of the march as I trundled past the Millbank Tower and headed towards the speakers’ stage, in the company of 50,000 strong, armed with banners and flags. A considerably different picture than that illustrated by the likes of BBC and Sky News.

The speeches from several union officials were impassioned, if sometimes tinged with vitriol. However none were rabble-rousing enough to cause a violent rebellion, and certainly didn’t evoke any negative reactions from the cheering crowds. Meanwhile at the highly surveyed Millbank Tower, small pockets of resistance were causing a slight tremor, which would unfortunately have an aftershock effect that outweighed its own significance in the scale of things.

That the majority of organisations who chose to deal in hyperbole and the superlative overshadowed the true objective of the march, much more efficiently than any aggressive minority could have hoped to. A four-minute Youtube video, provided by Russia Today, entitled “London Riot: Tory HQ smashed by British students” exemplifies the re-branding of the protest, ignoring the diversity of people on the march, using emotive language. It seems that “riot” must get more bums in seats.

In the interest of artificial objectivity, many news outlets repeated cursory phrases ad nauseam such as “just a small minority” or “otherwise peaceful demonstration” as an attempt to justify completely narrow coverage.

The constant feral descriptions of student protesters that appeared in the news are almost entirely at odds with what I witnessed. Much of the time protesters were busy comparing their creative protest banners (break the rises, not the windows) or bemoaning the bleak future of higher education. The spectre of violence created a mild intrigue amongst the crowd, but no real support, and a considerable amount of scorn.

The Telegraph‘s in-depth reportage of the incident at Millbank Tower is reminiscent of the zeal found in reports by war correspondents, documenting massive conflicts with justifiably vivid descriptions. While the Daily Mail set out to make a caricature of the police force highlighting their lack of presence, which was, coincidentally, enjoyed by the 49,800 peaceful protesters.

The problem transcends the old dichotomy of broadsheet versus tabloid as both sides seemed to be equally transfixed on creating a climate of fear. It seems said that the whole biased coverage of Demolition 2010 will no doubt be justified for many, by quoting some cynical, old adage relating to supply and demand or market forces — “give’em what they want”.

NUS president Aaron Porter triumphantly ended his speech with the lines: “An attack on one of us, is an attack on all of us.” However several publications must have interpreted this as “an attack from one of us, is an attack from all of us”.

Finally I have to applaud several bloggers, Twitterers, and people who have commented on the websites of news corporations, who have all provided a much more radical (and probably well-written) critique than I could have hoped to.

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