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Tactics for anti-austerity movement: How we as campaigners use media

22 June 2013

Anita Halpin

Text of Anita Halpin's speech to the People's Assemby Against Austerity on 22 June 2013.

The NUJ's General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet was the first woman GS to sign up to the call for this Assembly and we're very proud of that!

Communications have certainly changed since the first time I spoke – albeit from the floor – in this very hall 50 years ago. It was an anti-Vietnam war rally. How did I know about it?

Maybe because two of my lecturers were on the platform. Maybe I saw a poster on the student union notice-board. Maybe a listing in Time Out's agit prop column (which they don't do any more)… I can't remember… However, the hall was quite full, but there was no need for overflow marquees.

The good news is that, today, there are so many more different ways to get the message out. The bad news is that media ownership is now concentrated in fewer, ever more greedy and grubby hands.

Mobile phones, texts, emails and social media in general provide much better and quicker ways to mobilise; to get the turnout at demos, lobbies, rallies and meetings. And blogs and twitter enable immediate and live commentary as events unfold.

So are traditional media, newspapers and television, still relevant and important?

It would be understandable if your first response, especially after the hacking scandals and Leveson, was to question if you would even get a fair hearing.

OK, ultimately the editorial line and ethos is dictated by the media moguls. But what you do is new, it's different, it's news, and the public has a right to know.; a right you can't deny them.

So how can you work with the media?

Most of you are active primarily in your localities. As campaigners and activists, you need to get to know your local reporters, whether print or broadcast.

Remember many of them will be union members and are as much victims of austerity as anyone else. They are fellow workers and not the enemy. And, as members of the NUJ, they are bound by our Code of Conduct, which is supported by a range of reporting guidelines (check out the NUJ website).

Work to build and maintain a relationship of trust with journalists and keep in touch, even when there's nothing happening at the moment in your arena. Find out how they would like you to present your stories and always name a contact who can answer any questions.

Papers have a short shelf life – yesterday's papers are today's fish and chip wrappers – but developing news can have a longer shelf life: reporting that something is going to happen; reporting the event itself, and then following up on the outcome, especially if it's successful.

Following up an event is important, it keeps your issue live and can also act as a recruiter to 'the cause'. And we can all be part of the follow up, in letters to the Editor or via Facebook, twitter, blogs. (Though we would hope that justifiably angry replies will be measured and respectful in their language).

And there's also the important element of "putting the record straight" and the role that so-called "citizen" journalists can play, though I would prefer to describe them as "witness" journalists.

Remember also that you can request a "Right of Reply"; ideally with equal prominence. You may not get it. In fact, often you won't. But the public climate is changing, and publishers are a lot more sensitive now – at local level, anyway – to charges of unfairness and dishonest reporting. And, in the, longer term we would want this to be a right for "ordinary" citizens who, unlike celebrities, cannot afford mega bucks for "media consultants".

So that's about individual campaigns. But I believe that it's equally important, and a crucial part of this movement, that we work across our individual issues with other anti-austerity groups.

Yes print and broadcast media are still relevant; use all the media outlets available – never forgetting the daily Morning Star, a founding sponsor of this Assembly.

And, in your engagement with the media, we see you as joining together with us in the issues we highlighted at Leveson: media plurality; controls on cross media ownership, and union rights for fairer workplaces free of bullying and harassment. Together we must the campaign for media plurality and diversity.

The shameless shenanigans of media moguls to try and stall the implementation of Leveson's recommendations on press regulation exposes the industry as unethical profit seekers who are not interested in and cannot be trusted to deliver a fair press, never mind a free one.

Tags: , austerity, activists, Leveson, media, media reform