Fear of the media (and police) stalks the Glens

THE
STEEL security fence designed to ring the hotel hosting the G8 is not
yet complete but I can exclusively reveal the depth of paranoia now
filtering across Perthshire. Believe me, bunker mentality is far from
confined to the abundant golf courses of Gleneagles.

Take the
Germans. Reports reach me from reliable sources in the hotel and
catering trade that Chancellor Schroeder and entourage had planned a
mid-summit night off, an escape to a restaurant but a few miles away.

Plans were well advanced for a break from summitry in plain, unpretentious surroundings with excellent food.

Delicate
approaches were made to book out the entire restaurant and impose
requisite security for the night in question. Only one slight
difficulty: ITN had booked out the entire hotel months before.

Try as they might – and they certainly did – the German Embassy could make no inroads.

ITN
were not having their people coming home after a long day chasing
diplomacy inside and dissent outside the ring of steel – just to find
yet another cordon between them and their food, pints and beds.

And
you thought the real angst was where protesters could find a place to
kip if they joined the Geldof Million and headed for Edinburgh?

Speaking of which, how many will actually want to head for Edinburgh?

Certainly
they’ll happily fill Murrayfield for the gig on 6 July, but talk to
those wanting to disrupt or protest at the G8 and they’ll tell you –
not surprisingly – that they want to be at the G8.

Not Edinburgh,
not Auchterarder even, a mile or two away – but at the place itself or
as near as you can to it. If you Google the multitude of protest
websites – G8 Alternatives, Dissent, Critical Mass and so on – and
enter the chatrooms you’ll get the same feel.

Talk to anybody going up for it, coming down for it or getting over to it, they’ll say the same thing.

So
it’s interesting to go over to Dundee and meet the policeman in charge
of it all because Gleneagles lies on his patch. An Englishman, a bluff,
amiable and open northerner, Tayside Police chief constable John Vine
is keen to allay the more lurid tales peddled in some sections of the
media and widely believed among the protesting fraternity.

So he’s keen to nail plastic baton rounds, water cannon, CS gas – it won’t be there on the day.

They
don’t have it. They don’t plan to use it. He confirms too that, to the
best of his knowledge, riot squads have never been deployed on Scottish
soil.

There’s a feeling in police circles that the first chief
constable who does deploy them may not be making the best career move
of their life.

He’s using the media – us on this occasion – to get over something else.

Almost
all protesters we speak to are convinced the major roads will be
blocked and nobody will get anywhere near Gleneagles on the day. Well,
that may turn out to be the reality.

But it’s certainly not the message Mr Vine is putting out.

I
press him – let’s be quite clear, if I want to get to that security
fence on 6 July and wave my balloon, wear my sandwich board, carry my
placard – then I’ll be allowed to?

The answer’s unequivocal: yes, so long as you’re peaceful.

He
reckons his intelligence picture suggests tens of thousand will not
actually go to Gleneagles but head for Edinburgh instead. If he’s wrong
and the suggestions from protesters are right, he could have a big
problem on the day.

Local people as well as the media across the
UK have all seen the maps handed out showing that any roads which
actually cross the ringfenced hotel site will be closed during the
conference.

Driving up to and around Gleneagles will, basically, be normal. Normal for locals and normal for protesters.

If
the dissenters agree with Bob Geldof that going to G8 itself is
pointless, then the police will have scored a real success and
Gleneagles will be characterised by fluorescent vests and peaked caps –
not helmets and batons.

The danger of all this is that it manages
expectations in the media and “real people” for one course of action.
If, on the day, another course is needed because too many people really
do want to get at that fence, then there will be a lot – thousands – of
very angry people at roadblocks, a long, long way from Gleneagles.

Roadblocks remember, which the police publicly promised would not be there.

And
there are a lot of alienated people out there already. Fear and
suspicion of the police on one side, balanced by hostility to the
“corporate media” on the other. For many that clearly includes Channel
4 News.

When we wanted to hear tales of folk across Scotland
having their collars felt by the cops for wearing anti-G8 regalia, some
were unwilling to talk. Of course, plenty more did, and I hope feel
positive about the results.

We’ll see. But all have recourse to
the burgeoning Indymedia coverage already thoroughly geared up to the
coming protests across Scotland for the G8 week.

Long gone are the days when the only cameras were in the hands of paid professionals.

As G8 will see the protesters’ own
paramedics operating on the streets, so too will they have their own
media coverage going straight on to the websites as it did in Seattle
and then Genoa.

Long gone are the days when the broadcasters had any monopoly on the moving image and the recorded script.

Indies and corporates now vie for space and attention in their parallel media and – to some degree – parallel worlds.

Competition for attention, for message, for audience. We’re all at it: broadcasters, papers, protesters and police.

It’s
all heating up by the day as the week of G8 shenanigans approaches.
It’s a multi-dimensional fight for space, ownership, spin and message.

Our
own way through all this? Well, we’re sending the programme lock, stock
and barrel to Africa for a week running up to the G8 to bring home the
news from a different perspective and one central to G8. Others may
well choose a similar approach. Busy times – small wonder the poor
Germans and their plans for a night off from it all never got a look-in.

Alex Thomson is a presenter with Channel 4 Next week: Janice Turner

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