To many involved in the anti-globalization movement, biased press coverage by the mainstream media has become as much a concern as activities of the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund or Transatlantic Business Dialogue. After all, the nation's major media — daily newspapers, TV stations and networks and commercial radio stations — are owned by or affiliated with the very multinational corporations that run the WTO, IMF and TABD.
As events at the WTO meetings in Seattle proved, the mainstream media can easily paint a picture that has little connection to reality. Due either to ignorance or to complicity, the media in Seattle missed both the protesters' messages and the police role in escalating the violence that broke out.
With subsequent demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and at the presidential conventions and debates, world-trade groups and the media both seemed to be coming around to the idea that the anti-globalization movement is a true grassroots tidal wave that's embracing wider and wider audiences. Still, coverage of the protests was geared more to arrests and conflict than to the deeper issues.
But what can you expect from media dedicated to 30-second sound bites and convinced the general public can't understand complex issues such as world trade?
And so local organizers of N16, the anti-globalization protest that greeted the TABD here, wondered what kind of coverage they'd receive from Cincinnati's mainstream media, which has a deserved reputation as staunch supporters of the status quo.
In general, the protesters got as good coverage as they could have expected and much better than I anticipated.
Of the two overall areas of coverage — fairly reporting the protesters' concerns and fairly reporting the police/protester confrontations — the local media did an excellent job of giving the anti-TABD folks their due.
Look at the front pages of The Cincinnati Enquirer during the TABD conference: Friday's headline ("CEOs focus on trade; protesters on people") and two photos accurately showed peaceful protest actions; Saturday's main photos were of a local man flashing the peace sign in front of a row of cops and an overview shot of the main march through downtown; and Sunday's photos were of another peaceful march and a young woman grimacing after being maced by police.
Stories in both The Enquirer and The Cincinnati Post gave plenty of space to the litany of concerns protesters have about the TABD and WTO. And the stories pointed out TABD attendees knew about the protests and recognized the need for better dialogue with protesters in the future. Even Enquirer editorials before and after the conference acknowledged the legitimacy of the protesters' concerns and their right to be heard.
Cincinnati's TV stations also did a pretty good job overall of listening to the protesters, although in general they played up the police confrontations more than the newspapers. After all, nothing juices up the 11 o'clock news quite like a few cops and protesters wrestling in the street.
Channels 5 and 9 had the most in-depth coverage, with the single best package being Channel 9's 6 p.m. newscast Friday, which dedicated the first 10-12 minutes to the big blowup at Fourth and Elm streets and the TABD in general. Channel 9 also had good, balanced coverage throughout Friday and Saturday on its CNN break-ins.
Channels 5 and 9 also had the best breaking coverage on their Web sites Friday. ChannelCincinnati.com (5) offered lots of video (including helicopter footage and raw footage of the protests), while CinciNow.com (9) had video and a story updated just five minutes before I logged on. Both sites had helpful links to protest groups' Web sites.
Channels 12 and 19, meanwhile, offered little on their Web sites beyond a few paragraphs previewing the TABD conference. No video, no live updates, no links and no background.
There were a few missteps on the local TV airwaves.
Channel 19's coverage Friday night focused on interviews with some young protesters from out of town who had no idea what the anti-TABD protests were about — casting doubts on the legitimacy of the entire N16 movement. Clearly 19 went out of its way to find ill-informed protesters, as dozens of labor leaders, environmentalists and workers' rights advocates were on practically every downtown corner all weekend.
To its credit, 19's coverage Saturday night featured protesters reacting to the previous night's story by chanting, "Channel 19 lies! Channel 19 lies!"
I have to quibble with Channel 9's overuse of its "Your Hometown News" slogan during newscasts. On several occasions the anchors introduced protest coverage by saying things like, "Protesters are in our hometown...," giving viewers the false impression that the protest movement consisted of nothing but out-of-town agitators. You know how well that goes over in Cincinnati.
As for media coverage of the police/protester confrontations, I haven't seen any news outlet yet tackle the issue of the Cincinnati Police Division's aggressive tactics. The daily reporting clearly was in favor of the police actions, which I'm sure contributed to the cops' decision to get even tougher at Saturday's protests. ©