An occupier’s perspective: Letter to the Leveson Enquiry

 

We are starting a new section on the website which aims to give the varied and diverse voices of Occupy London an increased presence on the website. Below is the first submission from one of the occupiers - Steve Rushton - who has been involved since late October camping at OccupyLSX. 

Steve’s letter, which has been submitted to the Leveson Enquiry, focuses on press ethics and institutionalised bias. Submissions for module 2 are now open and module 3 will be opening shortly – see here.

As well as being involved with Occupy, Steve is currently writing a PhD criticising Neoliberalism from an indigenous perspective. From Southampton, Steve has also provided legal support to Dan Ashman as part of the OccupyLSX legal case – for which judgement will be delivered sometime after 11 January.

If other occupiers would like to submit a personal view for publication on the website, please email press@occupylsx.org.

Dear Lord Justice Leveson,

I would like to draw your attention to the press coverage of the occupy movement since the 15th October and especially during the recent eviction court case brought by the City of London. This specifically relates to module 1:  Points 1, 4, 7 & 10 in particular.

Having been an occupier since early November on the St.Paul’s site (OccupyLSX ), as well as commencing a PHD study in Global Politics, I can say with authority that the mainstream media have wilfully distorted the message promoted by occupy.

Examples include:

  • Stories wholly based on hearsay. E.g: London Evening Standard, front page report on intravenous drug use in the camp,
  • the notable lack of coverage of the issues raised at OccupyLSX such as social injustice, unsanctioned wars, unethical greed of elites, ecological destruction, genocide, inequitable neoliberal division of capital & resources and the current globalised system.

On Dec 19th, The City of London Corporation took OccupyLSX to the Royal Courts of Justice to obtain a ruling allowing them to evict the occupiers. The named occupier, Tammy Semede was represented by John Cooper QC.  Daniel Ashman and George Barda were litigants in person.

The City of London claimed that OccupyLSX’s tents block a public highway. Daniel Ashman, George Barda and John Cooper rejected the City’s claims on many legal points that relate to the rights to protest, Article 11 of the European Human Rights Act: Freedom of Assembly and Association. The defendents asserted the over exaggerations of the claimed “nuisances” and the proportional universal benefit of occupy as a communal space to exercise the lawful right to protest.

Beyond this, Daniel Ashman also raised a further legal argument: this concerned  “Lawful Necessity” and “Lawful excuse”, using the example set out by R v. Zelters et al. [1996] “The Ploughshares 4.”

Daniel Ashman presented the court with the case that occupy is a new type of political agency, unprecedented due to its global nature. The case was made that political protests of the past have frequently failed. Marches have been ignored, petitions have had no effect and the balance of convenience has prevailed through corporate lobbying and within the limitation of the electoral system. He asserted that the physical semi-permanent nature of the camp, which is what the City of London was challenging, was intrinsic to OccupyLSX and lawfully necessary and lawful excuse.

Within this case Daniel Ashman accused the City ofLondonand the Corporations that sponsor it of being complicit in genocide, amongst other destructive practices to both humans and the planet. This argument was set forward to justify OccupyLSX continuing at its present site to enable the dialogue that is on-going there to discuss an alternative future that is equitable, socially just and ecologically sustainable. There were bundles of submissions supporting these claims.

The judge’s decision can set a new legal precedent; however the press have chosen to ignore this turning point. Instead, outside the Royal Courts of Justice on the last day of the hearing a journalist from the Daily Mail asked Tammy Samede, the named defendant for the whole camp, to comment on a matter mentioned in the court room about when she reprimanded others for being rowdy and drinking too much on the camp. I asked the reporter – in light of all the serious issues that were being discussed in the courtroom, why he was asking that question. To paraphrase he said, “I work for this paper – it has this agenda – this is the story I have to write.”

His reply suggested to me, that he was passively complicit within the newspapers agenda and that whatever the actual events in the courtroom were, he felt that it was his duty to report about Occupy in a negative light.

This is an example of institutionalised bias.

The anti-fascist Italian political philosopher Antonio Gramsci asserted that elites in a society suppress a population and control them through engendering common sense, to behave with consent in the desired way. He suggests this is done though media, within education and through religious institutions.

The media and elites in Britain are interlinked,

  • Corporations last year sponsored the British Government £2 billion.
  • In Tony Blair’s first election in 1997, he thanked the Sun for its “magnificent support” stating that it “really did make the difference”.
  • 23 out of the 29 members of the new cabinets are millionaires

A further criticism of the press is that they over simplify and polarise thus distorting the message of occupy. This patronises the reader and promotes ignorance about the movement.

Two key examples of this are the media claiming that occupy “does not stand for anything” and that it is “anti-Capitalist.”

The reported line that occupy does not stand for anything was used frequently in the first few weeks of the protest.  It has resonated widely with members of the public. The press actively ignored the 5 initial statements issued by OccupyLSX that passed through the OccupyLSX consensual process. This is also shown by the solidarity we have shown with marches on a wide range of issues, all the discussions at GA’s, the comprehensive range of working groups and their foci and the two national conferences in London and Edinburgh. OccupyLSX initiated a dialogue with other Occupations in over 80 countries spanning over one thousand sites. In a press release OccupyLSX rejected the G20 for being “undemocratic, unjust and unsustainable”. There are also over 40 occupations in Britain.

If someone from the press genuinely did not grasp that occupy stands for something: maybe a job in the press is not for them. If a wide range of the press is presenting this message, it suggests a systematic or institutionalised problem.

The press has labeled occupy as “anti-capitalist.”. It may suit a small proportion of the protest; however, it does not represent Occupy comprehensively. Anti Capitalist sentiments is not reflected in any of the press release statements from the working groups or the GA discussions. An example of OccupyLSX’s position is on corporations, this shows that as a group we are not anti capitalism, instead anti injustice and against inequality. This is an excerpt from this statement:

‘Globally, corporations deprive the public purse of hundreds of billions of pounds each year, leaving insufficient funds to provide people with fair living standards. We must abolish tax havens and complex tax avoidance schemes, and ensure corporations pay tax that accurately reflects their real profits.

Corporate lobbying subverts our democracy. Last year corporations spent £2 billion influencing the British government. We believe exploitative corporate lobbying has no place in a democratic society. Legislation to ensure full and public transparency of all corporate lobbying activities must be put in place. This should be overseen by a credible and independent body, directly accountable to the people.

The existing system of corporate sanctions allows executives and board members to avoid individual responsibility for the consequences of their actions and inactions. Those directly involved in the decision-making process must be held personally liable for their role in the misdeeds of their corporations and duly charged for all criminal behaviour.’ Personally,I am anti-neoliberal, anti-corruption, anti-inequality and pro-ecological and not anti-capitalist.

The term “anti-capitalist” has negative connotations. These connotations have been engendered by the media and academia throughout the 20th Century affirming a myth that there are no alternatives to the current system, except communism which failed in practice. The press thus inadvertently suggesting that we as humans cannot improve on what has gone before. Therefore this unfounded label, ‘anti-capitalist’, has an amazing power to distort the meaning of occupy and discredit it to the public. By discrediting a communal critique of the protest it reinforces the system and acts to prolong the status quo in the interests of the elites.

A further example of sensationalist journalism about occupy concerns claims made by papers including the London Evening Standard that intravenous drug use was rife at Occupy LSX. This headlining front page article was based on the City of London giving the camp sharps bins. This headline on the front of the Evening Standard is based on unsubstantiated evidence; however, its negative impact on OccupyLSX to the general public is immeasurable.

Protests are a defining quality to free democracies. They are nothing without proper coverage. We propose that covering protests irresponsibly is an act of silencing the people and should not be allowed.

I hope the following letter is helpful with your inquiry. If you require further information I am more than to willing assist with any follow up inquiries you may have with this submission including opening all channels of communication with the occupiers themselves.

Best wishes

Steve Rushton

 
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