The failure of mainstream news to get to grips with reporting the anti-globalisation protests is due to "lazy journalism" rather than a conspiracy to toe the establishment line, it was claimed at the Edinburgh International Television Festival.
The mainstream media was criticised for its coverage of the protests in Genoa, Seattle and the City of London by the heads of independent media organisations, who argued that its coverage failed to reflect the issues behind the protests, the peaceful nature of some of the demonstrations or the indiscriminate violence meted out by the police.
But Chris Cramer, president of international networks at CNN, who admitted that some of the network’s coverage had failed to fully reflect what happened in Genoa, claimed that it was down to "lazy he-said-she-said-type journalism". He added that the independent and militant journalism coming out of the protests was "an antidote to that laziness".
Cramer also denied that a news organisation like CNN, which was reliant on big-brand advertisers, would be constrained in covering protests against the global economy.
Paul O’Connor from alternative news agency Undercurrents, who showed footage of Italian police attacking protesters, said police violence only became national news when people sleeping inside the school were the victims.
"Police brutality became national news when they raided the school," said O’Connor. "They were brutal and there were no problems saying it this time because it wasn’t in the street."
But news chiefs rejected claims that there was a conspiracy within the mainstream media. "The idea that we are somehow censoring the news is blatantly wrong," said ITN editor Nigel Dacre. "If you think we are sitting in offices saying ‘edit that out’ then you are living on another planet."
They also denied that they were following a political agenda that would exclude using footage showing police attacking peaceful demonstrators and said that if offered material of the kind shown at the festival they would "jump at it" .
"Why would I not want a more comprehensive journalistic picture of what happened on that day?" argued Cramer. He added that the pressing need for alternative news provision would grow as the big news organisations cut back on their foreign bureaux. "We are going to be relying more and more on agencies," he said.
While BBC coverage of the protests was picked out for criticism, O’Connor said that all the news organisations had failed to grasp the nature of the anti-globalisation movement. "Reporters have no idea what this movement is; they are so out of touch," said O’Connor.
But head of Sky News, Nick Pollard, said the suspicion of protesters towards journalists had blocked efforts to make contacts in the movement. "Don’t underestimate how incredibly suspicious the protestors are of us," he said. "We tried incredibly hard to make those contacts before Genoa, but because of the suspicion no one wanted to know. The same was true of the May Day protests."
By Julie Tomlin