Old text, but still relevant: Protests and the Passive Voice

Posted on August 28, 2012


Ah, news coverage on g20 protests. There’s no better way to realise how biased ordinary news coverage is until its about something you’re personally involved in. All these stories which seem quite reasonable and fair, until you know something about what they’re talking about and then you see it as right-wing hysteria, the tremulous voices of people terrified by anything that challenges their assumptions and way of life.

Take the passive voice. “It is feared” “Violence may erupt” and so on. A great way of giving the illusion of neutrality – the news paper does not fear, nor the police, nor the citizens, just “It”. See, we are neutral, we are not representing just one side of the view: our assertions are general.
But this is nonesense. “It” cannot fear. People are afraid. This is just a forumla to try and avoid saying who. I mean the protesters do not fear that violence may erupt – not the peaceful majority, and even less those who would ransack the City (let us be honest, they do exist) since they’d be glad that violence erupted.
Those who fear violence are the proponents of the established order of things – mostly those who have profited from it. Witness: the number of articles mentioning the reactions of City workers, how they need to dress down to avoid harassment, the logistics of the london public transport paralysed by protests. Not the logistics of bringing hundreds of thousands of people in, getting them to agree to march for a common cause – the protestors are a vague bunch. Talking about the effect on londoners – as if the protesters came from some alternate planet, as opposed to a majority BEING londoners themselves.
And then there’s the police. Probably the real wildcard in the situation. “Just doing their job”? Hell no – you can do your job well or you can do it badly. When people are making assumptions of violence, preparing to use terrorist legislation to whip popular uprising into line, that’s doing it badly. When units already under investigation for brutality and racism are going to be in the front lines, that’s doing it badly.
No one trusts police anymore – not once you’ve seen video footage of violent agitators in the crowd who are then spotted arresting people. By spreading alarmist views on violence they only encourage violence. They help scare off the peaceful protesters and attract the violent onces, help fuel the logic that if you’re going to be oppressively policed and arbitrarily corralled and arrested, you might as well smash things while you’re at it since it won’t make any difference.

I suppose in the end this is all quite obvious – mainstream media support the ideas of the wealthy and powerful, because being mainstream has made the owners wealthy and powerful. They do not necessarily do so maliciously – it arises from the embedded assumptions of the reporters, from a world view devoid of contact with radical ideas. And this is ashame for as the J.S Mill, the father of modern liberalism, stated so clearly how can you be confident in the truth of your ideas if you’ve never had to defend them against serious opposition?
This last point is what i feel gives me a lot of confidence in my (Green/relatively radical) views. Being surrounded by people who don’t share them i must constantly defend them. And since by now no one has been able to noticeably shift my position, while I have often felt i shifted theirs, i feel i’m onto something.

Posted in: Media, Musings, Politics