Protest? What protest?

Thousands of people take to the streets every summer. No, this isn’t just the summer rioting phenomenon; I’m talking about popular protest. However, if you live outside of London, you might not realise the scale that popular protest movements are operating on. Namely, because of the lack of media attention that they receive.

We might naively assume that today, our widely connected world does not still rely upon the mainstream media; that what it chooses to report does not restrict our consumption of information, but it might be wise to rethink this assumption. Content by the people for the people is still not yet as powerful as ‘official’ content from news stations. The mainstream media still holds significant power over the information that we consume, even today, when we can freely access so much on the internet. The media controls which section of the unprecedentedly vast amounts of information we are exposed to catches our eye.

Will informal news through social media ever become strong enough to combat this sense of validation?

What social media does provide though, is a glimpse into topics which the mainstream media neglect to report upon in great detail. We can see the selective information supplied by the mainstream press well through its reporting, or lack of reporting, about popular protest.

We can see a dearth of information about the recent protests to draw attention to the atrocities being committed by the Israeli army. Whilst there has been minimal reporting of the protests by the BBC, reports have been vague, and figures that display the size and scale of protests have been vastly underplayed. This information is freely available online for those wishing to research, but has not been presented.  Over a hundred thousand attended the Demonstration for Gaza in late July, with ongoing protests, yet the demo went largely unnoticed by the media.

I could come up with theories as to why there were few reports on these protests. It wouldn’t be difficult to imagine the reasoning behind the lack of mainstream media reports about protests and demonstrations, but the worrying fact is that no reason should be prevailing. Protests highlight important issues, and often those overlooked or mismanaged by the administration. For there to be several cases in which these issues were underreported, especially when they have been shown to be important to a significant amount of people, smacks of censorship. It is issues like this which might have contributed to the UK ranking 33rd, falling four places since last year, in The World Press Freedom Index.

Last year’s November 5th ‘Million Mask March’ protests, influenced by the film V for Vendetta and organised by the online organisation Anonymous also went largely unreported, despite huge numbers of participants in over 400 cities worldwide. It was however fairly well covered on social media, the main medium for  participation in and organisation of the event.

June’s People’s Assembly March saw over 50,000 protesters marching against the government’s austerity policies. Again, there was very little to no mention of in the mainstream media; reports which did emerge focused upon Russell Brand’s involvement in the cause.

As we increasingly look to social media as the source of our news, it will be harder and harder to ignore the things that people are talking about. Journalists will feel a greater a responsibility  to talk about the stories that matter to people. Maybe in future we will see better reporting about protests involving tens of thousands of people on controversial issues, which might not be convenient news stories, but are stories that matter.