Woolly liberal types, democrats, press freedom lovers and actual working journalists and photographers might be best avoiding west London for the next few days. On the other hand the British Airports Authority, nuclear power companies, would-be leaders of the world’s most polluting nation, tinpot dictators and trigger happy cops will feel right at home at the Heathrow Climate Camp.
For the Climate Camp’s attempts at – ahem – media management appear to have been drafted by BAA and npower legal favourite Timothy Lawson Cruttenden and implemented by Alistair Campbell with advice from Becca Bland.
Journalists who have worked in leading democracies like Turkmenistan and the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea, or had the joy of being embedded with US troops in Iraq, will be familiar with some of the tactics employed. Essentially these boil down to the usual ones of attempting to stifle any independent coverage, while giving free run to a small group of tame hacks: in this case, the inappropriately named IndyMedia.
Depending on what part of the world we’re in, and which group of power freaks think they’re in charge, the reasons for this kind of behaviour vary. In North Korea it’s because all independent journalists are Capitalist Running Dogs who eat regularly and can afford real Levis. In Iraq it’s because any New York Times hack who isn’t safely tucked up in the Green Zone by bedtime is obviously in the pay of Al-Qaeda.
At the Climate Camp it’s because uh… the media…y’know, they just…they’re all part of that big corporate THING, man, and they always want more…I mean, they got to feed the monkey…and if you look at all this new shit that’s come to light…I mean, I’m saying…this climate change shit, in the parlance of our times, it really sucks. Mind if I do a J?
Needless to say, and as would have been obvious in advance to anyone not suffering from a lentil overdose, the strategy has backfired spectacularly. It hasn’t prevented unsympathetic media putting their spin on the story: for example the Telegraph’s entertaining claim that the Climate Camp had actually increased air traffic emissions by encouraging fat cats to avoid Heathrow and fly by private jet instead.
Instead the sole effect has been to alienate publications, writers and photographers who in sensible circumstances would have been sympathetic to the camp. As a photographer from one environmental NGO put it: ‘it seems there’s now three places where pulling a “mainstream media” camera out means instant trouble. The Sunni Triangle of Death, Helmand Province, and the fucking Climate Camp.’
So extreme are the Climate Camp’s media restrictions that even those sometime defenders of free speech, the National Union of Journalists, berated the organisers for their authoritarianism. In a letter dated 01 August and quoted in the British Journal of Photography, freelance organiser John Toner wrote:
‘While I can understand your apprehension that coverage of the camp by mainstream media could be negative, the conditions you have stipulated are guaranteed to attract criticism from all professional journalists, whether supportive of, or hostile to, your views. Your stated intention to avoid openness imitates the behaviour of those organisations you criticise.’
However what’s truly impressive about the strategy is not just the extent of the Climate Camp’s control fantasies, but the Orwellian terms in which they are presented. Trouble on site? Don’t call the riot squad: send in the Tranquillity Team.
Rather ominously the organisers admit that the Tranquillity Team ‘made some mistakes’ at last year’s Climate Camp in Yorkshire. Whatever can they mean? Did the Trankie Troops lose their equilibrium? Go on a rampage with their valium pump actions?
And at least some of the protestors’ tenuous understanding of anarcho-libertarian politics seems grounded in full-bore confusion of dreams and reality: one was quoted early in the week as saying 5 million people were expected to turn up at the camp this weekend.
We expect he was referring to the number of disgruntled holidaymakers eager to discuss their new flight arrangements with the Tranquillity Team.