Nick Jones

After a month’s occupation of their tented encampment outside St Paul’s Cathedral, the campaigners backing Occupy London Stock Exchange still look as they might be able to avoid a repeat of the violent end to the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York.

If OccupyLSX does succeed in thwarting legal action by the City of London Corporation – and their camp remains in place through Christmas and on into the New Year – it will be a vote of confidence in the media-savvy strategy which the London protesters adopted.

Judging by the belated welcome extended by the St Paul’s clergy and the acknowledgement by politicians such as Ed Miliband and Vince Cable that OccupyLSX was making a case that deserved to be heard, their softly-softly approach has paid handsome dividends.

Naomi Colvin, a leading supporter and organiser of Occupy LSX, said they had tried from the outset to portray the encampment in “as reasonable and BBC-friendly way as possible.”

There had been a clear understanding on the part of the protesters that if they could take advantage of sympathetic coverage from television news they would be able to withstand the hostile treatment they could expect from the national press.

The use of thermal imaging cameras by photographers to suggest the camp was more than half empty at night – and provocative infiltration of journalists posing as protestors – had been easier to withstand because television reporting had been “overwhelmingly supportive.”

Naomi Colvin revealed that OccupyLSX were as wily as public relations professionals in the City of London when it comes to a little subtle media manipulation: 

“There has been a great deal of solidarity at the camp and we do understand how things will play in the media....so we are concerned to keep things orderly and polite so that Radio 4 land is going to like us.”

The experience of OccupyLSX is in marked contrast to other mass protests during a year of unprecedented dissent and does show what can be achieved if organisers try to work with the news media and do their best to defuse the impact of negative reporting.

 Indeed there could hardly have been a greater contrast between the angry, violent eviction of Irish travellers at Dale Farm in Essex and the eventual harmony in front of St Paul’s cathedral in central London.

From the start, OccupyLSX made a concerted attempt to ignore the provocations of the tabloid press in favour of working with radio and television in the belief that their campaign against the excesses of bankers and financiers expressed the public mood. The success of their tactics will make it harder for the City of London to sanction the use of force and repeat the kind of rapid clearance which was witnessed at Occupy Wall Street on 15 November.

But the use of Police and bailiffs to clear the Dale Farm site in Essex – and the difficulties faced by reporters and photographers trying to record the eviction of Irish travellers – told a different story.

Nicholas Jones discussed the media coverage of dissent during 2011 with Naomi Colvin and Jason Parkinson, a video and print journalist who reported from Dale Farm and who is secretary of the London photographers’ branch of the National Union of Journalists. (Listen to the podcast produced by the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom at www.cpbf.org.uk) 16.11.2011