‘Responding to extremisms: media roles and responsibilities’

‘Responding to extremisms: media roles and responsibilities’, Bournemouth University, 15 July 2011

The oxygen of publicity or the right to a platform? How are different forms of extremism covered in our national media, and does this serve to marginalise or legitimise extremist groups? What are the media strategies of these groups, and what potential do social media have to change their prospects? What are or should be the relations between media professionals and police and security services, community organisations and other stakeholders? How will the media influence the success or otherwise of the soon to be revised PREVENT strategy?

On Friday 15th July, Bournemouth University hosted a one-day conference at Bournemouth University’s Executive Business Centre. The conference focused on extremism and in particular the media roles and responses to extremism. It was organised by Bournemouth University’s Media School and was run by CERB, the Containing Extremism Research Briefing (http://www.cerb.ws).

CERB is a growing database of summaries of research articles related to various forms of contemporary extremism, with focus on its psychosocial dimensions and the role of the media. The CERB conference brought together various academics, journalists and speakers involved in responding to political or violent extremism, discussing such topics as:

-  How should media report the EDL?

- Freedom of Information vs National Security: Why Wikileaks adds a new dimension to an old dilemma

- What do the public think? Attitudes to extremism, violence and freedom of speech

- Counter-terrorism and the media

- Responding to the BNP: the media and the Far Right in contemporary Britain

The conference was be covered live all day, so those who were unable to make it in person could follow the debate live. Check out CERB_WS on Twitter for the tweets or go to the CERB archive for the tweets in chronological order.

For full coverage of the conference, including blogs, videos and podcasts, go to cerb.ws/conference/blog.

The photos, tweets, blogs, videos and podcasts were put together by a team of students from Bournemouth University’s Media School (including myself)

The conference is linked to the development of a web-based resource for people working in this area, the Containing Extremism Research Briefing.

The “Fast and Furious” – The covert operation to arm Mexican drug cartels

Many Weapons

Image via Wikipedia

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) permitted hundreds of guns to be sold to suspected gun smugglers in a bid to track down senior members of Mexican criminal cartels.

The Center for Public Integrity has reported that the ATF allowed around 1,765 firearms over the course of 15 months to be sold to buyers suspected of being involved in gun smuggling.

Dubbed “Operation Fast and Furious”, the covert programme aimed to trace arms sold in the US to “straw buyers” – people who buy arms on behalf of others. The ATF operation let gun shops sell weapons in bulk to suspected “straw buyers”, aiming to track the guns as they made their way into Mexico. The ‘low-level criminals’ would, it was hoped, lead the ATF to more senior members of the criminal gangs.

Instead, out of the 1,765 that were knowingly sold (plus around 300 weapons sold before the operation began), fewer than 800 have been recovered. Two of these guns recovered were found near the border of Nogales, Mexico and Tucson, Arizona in December. The weapons found were AK-47s, recovered near the body of Brian Terry, a US Customs and Border Patrol Agent who was killed during a firefight.

The ATF told the Washington Post that its agents had taken every possible precaution to ensure that guns were recovered before they crossed into Mexico. If that truly is the case, then clearly this Operation was out of their control.

Senator Chuck Grassley, a senior Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, questioned whether the weapons sold to suspected “straw purchasers” were then tracked adequately by the ATF.  He has set up an inquiry to determine with the weapons used in Operation Fast and Furious crossed the border inadvertently, or were deliberately spread to areas of Mexico by US law enforcement.

Many ATF field agents harboured concerns over the covert operation, including Special Agent John Dodson who advised superiors that the operation was unwise. Ignoring their concerns, the ATF continued the contentious operation.

The violence in Mexico has claimed over 35,000 victims since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderón began his crackdown on the drug cartels. Juan Francisco Sicilia and six other young men were amongst the victims of the widespread violence. They were murdered last March, their bodies bearing signs of torture.

Sicilia’s father, Javier Sicilia, is a renowned poet and intellectual in Mexico. He is committed to the nonviolent struggle against the violence and led a protest march in May where over 200,000 people rallied to support the cause. He is, naturally, against the cartels but he also holds the Mexican president and the US culpable also. He is calling for the legalisation of drugs, and is joined by conservative former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, and increasingly by Calderón himself.

Calderón is traveling in the US this week and is denouncing the US arms industry that is profiting from the sales of weapons which are ending up in Mexico, fuelling the violence. A report released by three Democratic US senators finds that around 70% of guns seized in Mexico from 2009-2010 originated from the US; around 20,000 weapons seized during that period came from the US .

Barack Obama: Nobel Peace Winner. War President.

President Barack Obama addresses the House Dem...

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“I will promise you this, that if we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am president, it is the first thing I will do. I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank” (Obama, 2007)

Hope. Change. Peace.

Barack Obama’s presidential campaign focused on the principles that changes were needed, and if he were given the chance, it would be possible under his leadership. He promised a ‘change’ from the Bush-era politics, an end to the Middle Eastern wars, and the closing of Guantanamo Bay. The emphasis was on hope. The emotive theme was peace. His inspirational rhetoric echoed around the world. The focus was not on the fact that he was the first black president of the USA, but rather that he was so vastly different from the militaristic George W. Bush. Whereas Bush inspired anger, even ridicule towards the end of his office, Obama inspired hope in millions simply through his rhetoric. In October 2009, Obama was named the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, a gesture that would never have been given to his predecessor.

Yet beneath all the spin, the PR tactics and the powerfully emotive rhetoric encompassing such  words as “hope” and “change”, Obama’s policies are not so dissimilar to those that the Bush-era enacted. Some even claim that Obama may even be worse. He is certainly more charming, intelligent and emotive than Bush ever was, and this may be why he is able to captivate people’s hearts so. His eloquence with words and his calm, rational demeanor can potentially be very disarming; and if his policies are not so dissimilar to his predecessor’s, then his ‘promises’ for change are simply empty rhetoric, possibly designed to provide a smokescreen for what is essentially a continuation of the Bush-era politics that many Americans began to despise. Continue reading

Video footage of police man-handling disabled protestor

Video footage has surfaced of a disabled protestor being pulled from his wheelchair by police, dragged along the pavement several yards and then dumped on the curb of the pavement. Sympathetic protestors attempt to save the man from the police but to no avail. One police officer is then seen to be aggressively pulled to the side by a fellow officer! Evidently due to the fact that he was too heavy-handed and thuggish in his actions towards a handicapped protestor. Each day more footage and imagery are coming to light showing the police brutality in the recent demonstrators – many with no identifying numbers on their lapels meaning no accountability! Watch the video for yourself and make up your own minds, however. (Warning – some strong language is used by the shocked witnesses)

The BBC interview with Jody McIntyre, the disabled protestor in the video above, can be found below. It must be said that the BBC interview seems slightly biased and accusatory, but I will leave it up to you to form your own opinions. Leave comments below to share your view. Big respect for Jody McIntyre and much sympathy for him and his cause.

“Now is the winter of our discontent…”

Sitting on the Police van - London students pr...

Image by chrisjohnbeckett via Flickr

- Richard III, William Shakespeare. 1594

So on Thursday 9th December, 2010, Parliament voted to raise the cap on tuition fees and condemn future generations to a lifetime of debt. All the protests, marches, demonstrations and petitions thus far have clearly had no impact on the government, which begs the question – how do people get the government to listen to their pleas?

This is our winter of discontent. The winter that has begun with London burning – images of fires and smoke trailing into the night sky as Big Ben watches over the chaos. Winston Churchill standing hunched over his cane, hand in pocket, as metal fences litter the pavements and graffiti is sprayed on stone monuments. Shattered windows and broken buildings highlight the less-obvious damages  - the damage done to the people, an electorate who believed in the lies they were fed, the false promises and pledges from a party that wanted “an end to broken promises”.

The cuts have not even started to bite yet, but already mass movements have been generated from the ground-up – bringing sympathisers from various movements under one shared cause.  Trade unionists, socialists, anti-war protestors, UK uncut demonstrators, students, sixth formers, school kids, teachers, lecturers, anarchists… all  have shown their faces at recent demonstrations.

This is only the beginning. Rather than discouraging demonstrators, the recent protests have actually inspired a generation who has found their voice – and found that they are not alone in their anger. The police violence of late has only served to fuel the cause, to promote solidarity amongst the groups, to educate the uninformed. These young protestors have had a crash-course in demonstrating – Protesting 101. They have had to learn quickly, and the results are beginning to be seen: protestors kettling the police, protestors breaking through the containments in small groups instead of large masses, bringing supplies and learning to hide their faces. There are those who show up just to cause trouble – from full-fledged anarchists to groups like the EDL who show up to cause trouble. Some “gang” members mugged several people on Thursday – stealing their phones or belongings whilst the police watched on, laughing or simply not giving a damn. But the protestors are learning. They do not stand for the violence, and ostracise those who incite it. Just like at Millbank when the fire extinguisher was thrown, the crowd turned on the culprits shouting: “Stop throwing shit!”. But what do you do when the ones instigating the violence are the police? Continue reading

Broken Promises, Broken Buildings

A peaceful protest turns violent as protesters storm Conservative Party HQ, smashing windows and lighting fires

[This is a video montage that I created using footage of the student protest in London, November 10th. It includes video clips from several sources, and I have included footage of Nick Clegg filmed prior to the General Election. I in no way advocate the violence or the damage to property that occurred during the demonstration, however the aim of this video is to convey the emotions and feelings of the activists engaged in the protest in contrast to the promises made by Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg prior to the election. This video is not-for-profit and I do not own the rights to the footage used. I will be happy to remove any or all footage if asked to by the owners.]

Over 50,00 students turned up in London on Wednesday to protest the government’s proposal to raise University tuition fees by more than 200%, which could leave many students paying back the debt for the rest of their working lives.

The student protest began peacefully despite the unanticipated scale of the demonstration and the underwhelming police presence. The demonstration marched from Horse Guards Parade, central London, and past Westminster, however when the march reached the rally point at Millbank, the protest took a turn for the worse.

At around 1.37pm it is reported that over a hundred protestors broke off from the crowd and stormed Millbank Tower, the Conservative party’s headquarters, occupying the lobbies and waving flags from the rooftops, shouting “Tory Scum!” and “Nick Clegg, we know you, you’re a fucking Tory too”, according to the Guardian’s Matther Taylor, who was present.

Workers were evactuated from the building shortly after as the protestors smashed windows, threw missiles, lit emergency flares, spray-painted anarchist logos and anti-Tory messages on the walls, Continue reading

War and Peace

This is a poem that I wrote a few months ago. I was inspired by a conversation that I had with a close friend on the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the conflicts throughout the world that are still ongoing today. Many of the conflicts are being fought by new generations of soldiers or “freedom fighters”, some barely more than children who inherit the history and the battles from their fathers, grandfathers or even ancestors. In this decade of warfare and violence, it appears as if there is no foreseeable end in sight; the wars are self-perpetuating, the new generations inherit the anger and the vengeance from the past and continue the fight. During the conversation, we discussed how warfare has changed from battles on horseback or on foot, using weapons such as swords which harm only the users. Throughout the course of history, weaponry has evolved to cause more damage and destruction, to the point where today we use missiles and bombs, tanks and fighters, which level cities and kill thousands of civilians. Now, warfare takes the lives of those not present on the battlefield, those who never asked for the violence. Where once battle was honourable and took trained knights or soldiers, now war is as simple as designating specific co-ordinates and launching a missile from the control room. Obviously this is just a part of warfare but serves to illustrate how battles have “evolved”, and how if we do not consciously stop the warfare, then it will continue to perpetuate with each new generation inheriting the history of violence, with no end in sight.


I don’t know the end, or how it began,
or the men that were slain, or the songs that they sang,
but I know that the battles continue this day,
for the violence remains, it is here to stay.

Fighting for freedom, for love and for peace
they clashed swords with Fate and let Death take his prizes
For out of the carnage and blood nothing rises
Save evil and sin, Destiny’s twin, blackened and twisted it rises within Continue reading