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G8 2005, Dissent!
and the CounterSpin Collective

This article has been written by a few individuals who spent a lot of time working within the CounterSpin Collective (CSC), the Dissent! affiliated group that sought to use the mainstream media as one aspect of communicating with the public at large during the 2005 anti-G8 mobilisation in Scotland. As such it purports to reflect the view of ourselves as individuals, and does not claim to represent everyone's opinion. It contains personal reflections as well as objective critique.

it would be impossible to begin this without first establishing the invaluable and essential role that people from outside Britain had in assisting us to put together a media response group. Analysis of the work done by activists in Dublin around Mayday2004, their support, sound advice and experiences gave the fledgling group the confidence it needed to exist in the first place. Their workshops helped enormously in building the practical knowledge of people intending to facilitate media engagement.

After the Glasgow Dissent! gathering in February 2005 the semblance of a media group emerged that began to look at ways of engaging with the media. A media strategy email list was set up and, unusually for an email list, was at times very interesting. Honest discussions took place on the list that tried to look at who 'we' were and what 'we' were saying- not just to the media but also to ourselves and to the wider world. It raised important questions about defining our responses if we were to attempt to explain this 'movement of movements' and this 'other possible world' we wanted to build. However we saw our main function and effectiveness within the network as facilitating other groups to do just that.

The first mainstream media coordination from within the Dissent! Network was at the Festival of Dissent! in April 2005 in Scotland. There had been a flurry of journalists contacting the various different email addresses listed on the Dissent! website, and the GlasgoW Dissent! affiliated "Reshape" group specifically asked for help in developing a response to requests for, personal interviews. The inevitable stories had begun to appear in the tabloids about "anarchist training camps" and whilst the stories did not make -it South of the border to England as much, the "baby eating anarchists" were on their way according to the tabloid press.

At the March Leeds working group gathering, an autonomous group of individuals involved with the network had proposed that a media response group would be set up for the Festival of Dissent! that would disbanded afterwards. A press release was issued, and after much debating and clarification a number of stringent rules for dealing with the press with regards to access and photos, etc., were agreed upon.

There were a few irritating reports such as 'exposés' in the Daily Record and Times about our inability to put up marquees and inaccurate reporting about two individuals as that were supposed ring leaders. However, interviews which we did have control over and the journalists we did meet set a constructive precedent for the next few months and for people within the Dissent! network's first foray into mainstream media engagement. This was a decidedly positive strategy. A number of specific journalists consistently reported in a 'fair' and 'equal' fashion- at [east always giving us the option of comment, and even at times making a good effort to chose the best clips of our interviews to use in their stories.

After the Festival of Dissent!, the corporate media continued to catt looking for interviews and responses to police 'public relations' statements, to find out about the Clown Army, the People's Golfing Association, various group actions, trains from the south east, etc. Discussions during the festival of Dissent! helped formed a vague plan that solidified during the following months. At the end of the festival a number of people from local, working and action groups gave their names and contacts. When the media contacted us, we would arrange for contact to be made between the journalists and these people in the network who had expressed a willingness to talk to the media as individuats. If no one came forward from the various autonomous groups, then there was generally no response, although on rare occasion some groups did ask for assistance to communicate to the media.

hings gained a little more structure at the next Dissent! meeting in Nottingham. The media group took on the name CounterSpin Collective (CSC). This group's main focus was to facilitate aR those groups within the Dissent! network who wanted our help. A very comprehensive list of press contacts from around the world was built up, translators were found that were able to translate press releases and groups that. did produce press releases were able to send them to the CSC where they would be translated and sent out. As a practical example of how this system functioned, a number of Spanish translators would be sent a Press Release, and they would work together to translate the text and would generally have it emaited out to the Spanish press within a 24'hour period. For a number of working and action groups this method worked fairly effectively.

Those involved with the CSC atso acted autonomously in writing letters and personal responses to mainstream media contradicting the spin and ties put forth from police and state sources. In two cases that Seemed to be either slanderous or libelous, written and format complaints were made, including complaints to the Press Complaints Commission. In one case, personal complaints made to a specific journalist about unfair coverage resulted in another article the next week from the same writer on the history and possibilities of potice violence against activists. This article was considered to by activists to be quite good, and was a radical shift from what the writer had written before we complained to him. Such actions could have had more effect if they happened in a structured and coordinated way.

The week before the G8 summit the number of people actively involved with the CounterSpin Collective went from around 4 to 20. Given that this included media response groups at the Stirting rural convergence site, the Teviot building in Edinburgh, as well as the support infrastructure behind this, many folks had overlapping roles. As a number of these people had not been involved coverage than we had had to date and all these articles carried the idea that the Rural Convergence Centre was attempting to be a model of a different type of social organisation, inspiring, ecological, and organised non-hierarchicalty without leaders. This suggested to us that our ideas could be spread via the mass media on specific organised occasions.

Soon after the convergence site opened the media response group set up in a gazebo outside the site perimeter. It was set off-site and clearly marked so that it was an obvious point of contact for journalists and photographers. Here we explained that no journos or photographers were allowed onto the site, explaining why this was so. They would be briefed on the media policy, i.e. no one could be referred to as a spokesperson for the network. They were given a press pack whilst other members of the media response team would go inside the camp to find people who witting to give interviews, sometimes people working in a specific area or speaking a certain language. This again was a positive example of ensuring that CSC worked proactively and effectively within its mandate.

Having followed most of the press coverage about Dissent! and the issues surrounding the G8 in the lead up to the summit in a co-coordinated manner, the CSC was able to build up a list of 'unfriendly' and 'friendly' journalists (those who wrote buttshit and those who presented activists opinions without distortion.) Consequentially journaUsts who we preferred were given interviews and stories whilst others were asked to leave or confronted with questions as to the nature of their enquiry, etc. On more than one occasion, reporters were told to their face in a polite but direct manner that their media outlet had reported ties, and were told that they should feet personatty responsible for trying to create more balanced and reliable reporting in the future. Hopefully this engagement sometimes improved coverage as well.

Carnival for Full Enjoyment

One major challenge for the CSC came in the lead up to a demonstration planned for Monday 4 July, two days before the official opening of the G8 summit. The Tarnival for Full Enjoyment" was planned largely by a small group of committed tocal people who had planned the typicatty small local demonstrations before. The information that they sent to the mass media consisted of one press release, and offered the tink to a one-page web-site containing information explaining the general purpose of the demo: "*No wage slavery *No benefits slavery *No army slavery *No debt slavery"
(Web-site here: www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/agp/resistg8/carnival.htm)

The group organising this demo calted itself Dissent Against Work, and a number of jouratists contacted the CSC asking for information about the Carnival for Full Enjoyment after atternts to contact Dissent Against Work went unanswered. A number of these journalists had been in regular contact with CSC people, especially one based in Scotland, and had gotten used to getting interesting reliable information and quotes about various aspects of the mobilisation against the G8. These journatists in turn often became reliable sources of information for activists, telling what the police had said at their various press conferences or in personal interviews, and then looking for a response from activists or "anarchists", as they liked to say.

This was exactly the case around the lead-up to the Carnival demonstration. In the week leading up to this demo, one journalist commented to a CSC person that the police seemed a bit nervous because they couldn't contact any organisers from this demo, and the journalist relayed the opinion that this may not work well for activists.. A few days before the demo, a journalist that had consistently given the Dissent! network good coverage on a major Scottish TV channel phoned and said he had just been to a police press conference where the police mentioned that they had given a warning to all businesses near the Carnival demonstration route that they should take precautions and avoid talking to any activists, which "could be violent". This reporter relayed that the police appeared uncomfortable with their situation, and it looked as though the police would likely be gearing up for violence.

One person from the CSC attended the final organising meeting for the Carnival for Full Enjoyment, and relayed this perception that the police might be preparing for violence, even though the organisers of the demonstration were not planning for violence at all. It was mentioned that if the organisers of the demonstration utilised the better media contacts compiled via the work of the CSC, that the organisers might be able to better get across their intended goats of the demo, rather than letting the police put across a one-sided unfair picture of violent anarchists, and that this might result in a better outcome at the demo itself if masses of Edinburgh citizens were not scared off by police fear tactics.

The demo organisers did not agree with this perspective, for political reasons and possibly also out of the legitimate fear that the press and or police might personally demonise and likely even arrest anyone associated with the demo that might chose to be pictured in the press. This weR founded fear comes from previous experiences of political activists in the UK and around the world, and had also been seen in recent months through the police harassment of one CSC activist in Scotland that had her home searched extensively by police.

The organisers of the Carnival demo said they would not speak to police or the media ahead of the demo. After this, Scottish TV phoned the CSC and said they would report about the police press conference, and that without an interview from someone associated with Dissent!, that they fett their reportage would not be balanced. On the condition that they would be represented as an individual and not a spokesperson for either Dissent! or Dissent Against Work, one individual did an interview with this TV station, which is the most viewed 6pm news program in Scotland.

In the end, this particular interview on June 22 worked weR with the potice interview early in the news piece trying to paint a picture of chaotic anarchists, but with the CSC interviewee coming on screen looking like an average person and calling for fun and a carnival atmosphere, making the police warning seem silly. Various Dissent Against Work organisers also commented later that this news piece looked welt, and it seemed that in this particular case engagement with the media worked extremely well.

As for the demonstration itself, the police over-reacted and the demonstration did not go as well as was hoped for. Furthermore, the Dissent Against Work organisers had said that for their demo they wanted no engagement with the press, and this wish of the organisers was respected by the CSC, meaning that no one from the CSC contacted the media in any way.

However, the media was out in full force for this demo, and in one case dozens of journalists were stuck alongside activists for over three hours in a "kettle",. completely surrounded by potice who would let no one out of their enctosure. In this instance, with encaged journalists having tots of time to seek their "interviews with anarchists" and being turned away by many, one CSC member actively sought out individuats to give 'interviews as individuals. This worked rather well.

To return to the media team at the rural convergence site, on the 5 th of july the media reception tent was full and the phone didn't stop ringing. Loads of people did interviews and we had all television channels and most British papers. In this hectic environment, we slowly became aware that we had no plan for the following day of blockades. The fact that so many small groups of people were going off blockading raised issues about police brutatity and the need to get mainstream media out to blockades that wanted it. As weR as that there was the increasing risk that at some point we would be surrounded by potice and possibly raided. A two-fold 'strategy' emerged from discussion within the media response team onsite....

  1. Facititating media contact with aR blockading groups who wanted it.
  2. In the eventuality of the site being surrounded/ raided by cops we wanted to use media presence as a tactic of defense.

All groups going off blockading took the media telephone number. If and when they wanted they could ring the CSC to give an update on their blockade and trusted journalists would be contacted with information as to where the blockade was. It began to appear by 9am that due to the success and nature of the blockades central Scotland was at a total standstill. Unexpectedly journatists called to inform us of the situation on blockades and actions, many because to do so risked compounding the failures of the meeting where the ambiguity arose.

On Juty 8 th as the summit drew to a close a couple of people did an amazing interview with Radio 5 - saying that the G8 summit had been massively disrupted, that the WTO, IMF, and World Bank should all be v~iped away, that we were legitimate in our use of civil disobedience and that the issues of climate change and poverty could never be solved by institutions dependant on economic growth. Five minutes later Tony Blair's G8 summit communiqu6 ended in embarrassing tatters with a weak communiquá and George Bush heading home early with a sprained wrist after crashing into a copper on his bike. To any rational listener, there were activist voices coherently and rationally arguing our points whilst these political 'leaders' mumbled and faffed exactly as we had predicted they would just five minutes before on Radio 5.

Suspicion within the network

Whilst this article is written by only.a few of those involved with the GC and can only be said to represent our individual views, it is fair to say that nobody working within the media response group that grew to become the small GC group harboured any illusions about the nature of the work they were doing. We were attempting to do something that some people were very uncomfortable with and in some cases, had an ideological opposition to.

Although constantly aware of this, we were surprised at some of the hostility from within the network. Some people were dubbed as "media whores,'-' others were flamed on email. lists, and attempts were made to block some members of the collective from using office-space in Edinburgh based on unfounded accusations. There was constant, incendiary and untrue gossip circulated about what we were doing, e.g. that the GC had issued a press statement on behalf of Dissent! that the network would officially not be disrupting the Make Poverty History march.

In one instance at the eco-viltage, activists speaking to journalists were screamed at and threatened with physical violence and then had bottles of an unidentified liquid thrown at them from inside the fence. These. things were cumulatively very demoralising and there was a genuine concern that people who were involved with GC would face the sort of political crucifixion that people who have engaged with the media at other mobilizations had experienced. It should be said that these things occurred against a backdrop of many working groups and individuals showing support and appreciation for what we were doing. Undoubtedly one of the main problems was one of trust. How this can be changed is not just a matter of C5C looking at itself but perhaps the network as a whole. One positive outcome was that one of the individuals making some of the most vicious personal attacks later apologized after seeing a weR organized Press Conference about police abuse, yet the genera( issue of acceptance of doing mainstream media work within radical movements still remains. *

The pro-active media stance taken by those working within the media response groups meant that journalists had a point of contact with people from within the Dissent! Network. We were able to respond to accusations and police press conferences that sought to criminalize us, do interviews with local Stirling press in response to the 'riots' and place some context to the massive gLmount of misinformation that was being put out by police. Of particular concern were the outrageous allegations that weapons were being seized by people leaving the convergence centre site- camping knives and tent poles hardly constitute weapons- but the police were determined to place the camp in the worst light possible. Specifically the BBC and ITN changed their online reports to include unedited comments by activists to explain the ridiculous police accusations. The quick reactions of the media response group managed to curtail some of the worst stories instigated by the police.

Some lessons learnt

For many who worked within the CSC, and many within the Dissent! network, 'actively' ignoring the corporate media is not an effective tactic in the genuine fight for revolutionary change in our societies. The media was not the target per se but the people who get most of their news and info from mainstream media were the true targets of our organisational efforts. Use of the corporate media was seen as another communication toot in our collective toolbox, primarily of collective self-defense but also one of proactively voicing our critiques and contextualising our actions to as many people as possible. For the most part this effort was based on the work of a small number of people with various degrees of experience in creating a communications infrastructure. They were also often geographically dislocated and somewhat fearful of sticking their heads above the political parapet, but saw media work as important and valuable work. In the end the media groups were often forced to just respond to issues as they came up. We could have done a great deal more than we did do-we could have gone to police press conferences to counteract misinformation first hand, sent spoof press releases, done News Night et at, worked local media, wrote more articles for mainstream press, (as was done successfully in the Guardian) etc.

th We feet that a Dissent! press release/ communique on the day of the 6 , explaining the motivations and context for thousands of people wanting to shut down the G8 would have been extremely powerful both politically and for ourselves. However the nature of the Dissent! network structure and reason for being (i.e. the mass mobilisation against the G8) meant that there was little space for formalized political discussion as most focus was upon getting more practical things done. But if we don't focus our discussions than our attempt to engage with the public and on many levels our entire political reasoning and existence will be interpreted for us by the right wing and liberal corporate press, the police, politicians, and in this particular case G8 Atternatives.

In many senses the 'action' of the media response group for the rural convergence centre started on Tuesday 5 th of July and didn't finish tiR around 4pm on Friday the 8 th of July. The group of people that eventually ended up working in the media response group did not expect to be doing so to the extent that they were. Consequently we lacked a co-ordinated link up with the eco-village decision-making processes. It would have been much better if we had co-ordinated going to logistics, barrio, and site meetings or if barrios had sent representatives to the twice daily CSC meetings. We could have been organised in a far more effective way had we known then what we know now but what developed were in many ways ad hoc responses to situations.

The more professional "good" journalists came to the media reception gazebo and waited for interviews. The sensationalist "bad" journalists were already inside gleaning all the biased information they could for the exposes that never happened because of the bombs going of in London.

In the aftermath of the G8 summit there has been no media working group or responses ' to media from individuals or groups involved with the Dissent! network. This is particularly poor for those facing court cases in the aftermath of the summit. Given that there are still numerous ...

Questions raised by our experience.


It is certainly agreed by people involved in such mass mobilizations as those opposed to the neo-liberat agenda oil the G8, that we would like our movements t.o.grow. So the question is how we go about doing this. The authors of this paper are in agreement that use of the mainstream media is one method to reach out to large numbers of people to whom alternative and leftist press is either not readily available, or to those whom may not yet find such methods of communication attractive or interesting or relevant when coming from their present understanding of global political economy.

It should be noted that there are many methods of communicating with people. The most effective forms include face to face communication, and are community based. Other effective forms include teafleting, setting up information stalls in busy public spaces, postering, and holding lectures. Independent media including electronic and print media are also effective, but at the present time most independent media projects reach relatively small numbers of people, and in many cases are already targeted at people who are likely to be currently involved in various activist projects.

However, the authors of this paper feet that mainstream media work is a vital part of the communications mix that must not be [eft out of large scale mass mobilisation organisational efforts. They are also appealing for reaching out to people of varying political perspectives, with the hope of directing them towards our messages and our more independent media sources. If we are to attract large numbers of people to our movements, and to build mass movements with the strength to create a more just and ecologically viable society in the future, then use of the mass media wit[ have to be an integral toot within our communications strategy tootbox.

Written by individuals involved with the CounterSpin Collective, affiliated with the Dissent! Network which mobilized against the G8 Summit, UK 2005.

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