Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

May Day Smear Campaign – the Irish media turns against protesters.

Then, however, came the attack of gas. On April 24th, while the Daily Mirror reported that the gardaí feared a &ldquodirty bomb” attack from al-Qaeda, the Irish Sun splashed the front page with &ldquoWe'll Gas Bertie: May Day poison threat to Dublin received by the Irish Sun.” The Sun had, it seems, received an e-mail from a group calling itself &[email protected]” warning that it intended to use poison gas to kill not just Bertie (Ahern, Taoiseach, or prime minister) but as many as 10,000 civilians as well. That same weekend the Ireland on Sunday did a hatchet job on Aileen O'Carroll on the facing page of an article that announced ” 'May 1st 04 this city burns' – that is…just one of a series of chilling messages that have appeared on Ireland's main anarchist web site” (Ireland on Sunday, April 25th, p. 12). This article was written by yet another journalist who had earlier boasted of &ldquoinfiltrating” an anarchist meeting. In fact she had attended an open public meeting held in a pub and billed as an &ldquoanarchist drinking evening” (Phoenix, Feb 27th, 2004).

Journalists are highly principled creatures, and one of the most highly cherished principles is the right to protect sources. Hence so many security stories emanating from anonymous sources. Journalists have risked and sometimes gone to jail rather than disclose the sources of information for their articles. While this is very laudable, and the benefits to society as a whole of being able to pass information to journalists without fear of retribution are clear, it can also be a licence to make stories up. The Sun story about the gas attack is virtually unverifiable. Likewise the Ireland on Sunday about the arms dumps. The only check on journalists is that too many wild stories and they start to lose credibility, a serious problem if you happen to write for a newspaper that has credibility.

An unscrupulous journalist (or policeman) can send an anonymous comment to, say, advocating the use of a dirty bomb on May Day and this may appear in the newspapers as an &ldquoominous threat on an anarchist website.” (Anyone, of any political outlook, can post an article on an indymedia site and comment on-line on other articles. The principle is quite simple, but print journalists (who quite obviously rely very heavily on the work of unpaid writers on indymedia) consistently misrepresent it as an anarchist or anti-globalisation web site and very seldom give its full URL.)

The users of indymedia know better than to take such obvious plants seriously (or they quickly learn), but the readers of newspapers, relying on print journalists who wilfully confuse the issue of what indymedia is, may not take such a threat so calmly (although to the credit of Irish people there were no scenes of widespread panic in the face of the coming gas attack slaughter of innocents).

So much for the content of the scare stories. Italians, who were treated to pre-Genoa stories of terrorist plans to drop bags of HIV-infected blood from helicopters, will be familiar with them. Poland too, host of the European Economic Forum from April 28th-30th this year, has been wound up into a state of tension by pre-summit scare stories. But what is the purpose of these ludicrous stories?

We cannot know for sure what goes through the minds of journalists who tell their readers they are in imminent danger of being killed in their thousands, but the effects of these stories are easy to predict and hence give some clue as to their motivation and sources. William Hederman pointed out most of these in his Irish Times article. Firstly, sensationalism sells newspapers. &ldquoPeaceful demonstration expected to attract several hundred protestors” is not the most attention-grabbing headline. And indeed the peaceful, several thousand strong march in Dublin on April 24th for the granting of official language status in the EU to Irish received little attention. The headlines for the May Day protests, by contrast, include: &ldquoWing of prison cleared ahead of possible May Day trouble” and &ldquoAnarchist army plot bloodbath in Ireland.”

Secondly, a very obvious effect of alarmist stories is that less people will demonstrate. Some people may feel comforted by the presence of a few police patrolling the street, but a few thousand of them? The &[email protected]” group spells it out quite clearly: &ldquoThis warning is issued to alert the Irish people to stay well away from Farmleigh and the other venues including the airports during the EU 'celebrations',” the Sun quotes them as saying. (Never mind that anarchists involved in organising the demonstrations want as many people as possible to participate.)

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