“Why aren’t the mainstream media covering this protest?!?!”
It’s a refrain one sees fairly often from people perplexed that their favourite cause hasn’t attracted the attention it deserved.
This weekend’s splendidly vague anti-lockdown marches in central London were no exception. Twitter hummed with anti-lockdown ‘Smiley’ types complaining that there wasn’t more news coverage of the thousands of people marching through central London to resist…well, we’re not quite sure what.
To the conspiracy-minded, who I wouldn’t say were under-represented among Saturday’s hordes, the relative lack of coverage is a clear sign of the nefarious ‘MSM’ (mainstream media) deliberately ignoring the thousands of brave truth-tellers sticking it to The Man.
A rather more obvious explanation is that protests are, as a rule, not nearly as interesting to the rest of us as to the protesters themselves – not least when the rest of us had some sweet, sweet real weather to enjoy.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with protests per se. From Martin Luther King to Gandhi, the ousting of Ferdinand Marcos to the Arab Spring, the history of civil disobedience is long, honourable and full of historical impact. But we ought not to confuse the fact that some protests have been both just and historically significant with the idea that protesting is inherently virtuous or meaningful. I would struggle to draw a particularly straight line from the Montgomery Bus Boycott, say, and some trustafarian div gluing themselves to a train in the name of the climate emergency.
To return to Saturday’s events, there are several reasons the ‘MSM’ didn’t bother covering the protests in much depth, and none involve a sinister cabal conspiring to pull the wool over the Sheeple’s eyes.
First, it’s not particularly clear what the aim of the demonstration was. Judging from the various placards, it seemed a mixture of Kill the Bill activists amid a far more general anti-restrictions jamboree, dotted with some of the looniest of the loony fringe conspiracy theorists. Slogans ranged from ‘Arrest Bill Gates’ to ‘Defund the BBC’, ‘Free Your Face’ and the hugely inventive ‘Pfuck Pfizer’.
The daftness reached its apogee when a crowd decided to occupy the Westfield shopping centre in Shepherds Bush, which was already open, forcing it to close – all in the name of not locking things down. That group succeeded, in the narrow sense that their antics did get some news coverage, though it’s hard to see any other real achievement other than annoying a bunch of shoppers getting on with their very much not locked down lives. It all felt very much like a group of people with very little to say for themselves, demanding attention for its own sake.
This isn’t to say that disagreeing with lockdowns as a policy is a lunatic or fringe position. There are plenty of reasons, particularly for those whose livelihood depends on it, to oppose the Government taking away such basic rights in such a sweeping fashion. But protesting against impositions and restrictions which have for the most part already been lifted is not so much counter-intuitive as nonsensical.
Another reason this weekend’s marches were largely ignored by the BBC and others is that there was nothing at all novel about them. Like all events, there’s a law of diminishing returns involved in demonstrations, however worthy the cause. For something to make the news, it does usually have to be, more or less, new.
We went through a similar phenomenon in the endless saga of the Brexit second referendum campaign, when ultra-Remainers would insist that every Pret-tastic central London gathering deserved its own item on the news, regardless of the fact that their arguments were already well-worn to the point of screeching tedium, and the numbers involved not particularly impressive either.
None of this is to deny people the right to protest, of course. A healthy democracy requires the freedom to dissent volubly from government policy. As Henry Hill has written on this site though, it doesn’t mean anyone has carte blanche to cause as much disruption as they want to other people just because they think they are doing so in a righteous cause.
Nor does your right to protest confer a duty on anyone else, media or otherwise, to pay attention. So by all means, chant, wave placards, sing whatever rhyming couplets you’ve come up with for the day – just don’t expect anyone else to care.
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