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Richard Clegg

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How to report a strike -- a guide for the British press [Nov. 30th, 2011|11:46 am]
Richard Clegg

Here is my handy field guide for how to report on a strike for the British press. It's important that the multi-billionaires controlling the media can effectively get their view on labour relations out to the people.

1) Are many non striking people severely affected?
a) Lots of people are inconvenienced: Perhaps some people will need childcare, will not be able to travel or will have to stay at home. This can be conveniently characterised as blackmail -- it is well known that making it difficult to travel is very similar to extorting money. It's important to interview someone maximally inconvenienced. Perhaps you can find a mother standing in a queue to intereview. Ideally she should be holding a crying child in an airport or standing somewhere very cold. If the strike involves emergency services then why not include pictures of a fire or someone in an ambulance with the strong implilcation that deaths will result? The words "chaos" and "mayhem" are useful.
b) Very few people are inconvenienced: If the strike is not really inconveniencing anyone greatly then perhaps it does not need reporting at all even if it's quite widespread. If you feel for the sake of honesty it really must be reported then it can be characterised as ineffective. If the strike is so widespread that ineffective is not going to be believed but it is a public sector strike then perhaps you can quote a figure for "lost revenues" (implying that the public is losing money as a result of the strike). The words "dinosaur" and "out of touch" will create a balanced impression here.

2) What is the reason for the strike?
a) Wages: characterise the strikers as already overpaid or make this seem a selfish act. Good interview questions might begin "In this time of national austerity..." or "Against a background of wage cuts..." (after all, there is a background of wage cuts, that's why there's a strike).
b) Job losses: characterise the job losses as inevitable making the strikers seem out of touch. Emphasise recession and a background of job losses in this sector (although obviously if there weren't job losses there wouldn't be a strike). Good interview questions might begin "With your business struggling to survive..." (or if this is obviously misleading "With many buisinesses struggling to survive..." which is always true). An implication that the strike will finally finish off the business in question is helpful here.
c) Other non wage benefits: find some group which does not have such a benefit and draw a contrast. Ideally make the benefit in question seem comically over the top -- for example pensions can be characterised as "gold-plated" if provision of that type of pension rights are not universally available in the private sector. An interview to get the opinion of someone who does not have the benefit in question and is angry about this will provide a useful contrast. Strikes related to health and safety issues can always be made to seem ludicrous so a widespread use of the phrase "health and safety" can give the public the impressions that the strikers are losing a day's pay through sheer bloodymindedness.

3) Visuals:
a) The picket line -- while these are usually peaceful in this day and age, at some point it's likely you can find footage of someone shouting at someone else giving the impression that the union members are stridently trying to provoke confrontation. If you really can't find pictures of the few moments of ill feeling then simply picturing placards lying by the side of the road gives a pleasing feel of ineffectiveness.
b) The march -- if there's an accompanying march with speeches then make sure that any coverage of a speech is brief enough not to give any actual impression of what is said, but long enough to give the impression that someone is randomly harranguing a crowd. Nice close ups of socialist worker banners help reassure people that it is only marginal left wing elements which care about this.

4) Interviews:
a) Obviously the people you most need to hear from are those most directly affected by the strike, not people having their wages and conditions cut but someone who has to queue or even miss a day of work as an indirect result. As mentioned before, try to interview a mother holding a crying child if at all possible or an angry working class man (perhaps northern) who is late for something and can give a general impression that people with regional accents do not support the strike. The phrase "hard working families" is useful here (careful though, do not give the impression that the strikers themselves would work hard).
b) It's important to get both sides of the argument so you must also include an interview with a spokesperson for business. This can take place in a studio where a smart-looking reassuring man in a tie can make the case that striking is unreasonable. Perhaps a sound bite from a politician here about lost earnings, inconvenience to the public or generally that strikes must only ever be a last resort (allow the public to subtly take in the message that this is clearly not the last resort and the strikers are unreasonable).
c) If you feel you must include a viewpoint from someone in a union (remember they are biased) the best way to get this is probably to ask a difficult question of someone on a picket line. Keep trying this as eventually you'll be able to get an incoherent response.

5) Single images:
a) People being forced to sleep in their clothes due to a transport strike gives a pleasing impression that the strikers are unreasonable. Ideally find children and/or someone disabled who is affected.
b) Abandoned placards can helpfully suggest apathy amongst strikers:
c) A padlocked gate (ideally with something rusting or chipped paintwork) gives a nice feel that the strike will lead to industrial decay within the period of the strike (usually only 24 hours).

6) Support:
A strike can almost always be characterised as not well supported. Obviously any union member who did not vote would not have supported the strike. So, you can use this scale:
78% majority, 29% turnout = 23% (UNISON support for 2011 pension strike) -- strike is "not widely supported".
77% majority, 42% turnout = 32% (UCU support for "action short of strike" for 2011 pension strike) -- strike has "little support".
92% majority, 40% turnout = 33% (NHS support for 2011 pension strike) -- strike has "some limited support".
On no account point out that the 2001 Labour victory represented only 24% of voters and was characterised as a landslide.

*(in the UCU "action short of a strike" is usually more stressful but more effective than a strike -- support for strike was 58% majority = 24%)

Note: A few people have asked if I mind this being reposted or shared. Of course I do not -- the more the merrier, repost/retweet/share please.

[User Picture]From: rabbiter
2011-11-30 04:03 pm (UTC)
I hope you don't mind but I saw this linked on FB and came to have a look. Noticing you gave permission for someone else to re-post I have taken the liberty of linking to it from my fb too. One word from you and it will be gone again though :)
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[User Picture]From: steer
2011-11-30 04:04 pm (UTC)
Absolutely happy for everyone and anyone to repost. The more the merrier. Glad you enjoyed reading it!
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[User Picture]From: rabbiter
2011-11-30 04:09 pm (UTC)
Loved it. It makes the point I tried to make to someone a couple of months ago. You have captured it much better than I did though :) Bravo sir! :D
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[User Picture]From: steer
2011-11-30 04:27 pm (UTC)
That is very kind. Thank you.
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