Misleading British press coverage of demonstration in Rome on 10 November 2001
by Stephen Hewitt Saturday 19 January 2002, revised 13 March 2003
This photograph is from the front page of the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto, 11 November 2001 . The photograph was part of a report on a march which took place on Saturday 10 November in Rome. This was evidently an enormous demonstration of public opinion on the war and the purpose of this web page will be to document how it was reported by the British press.
In fact, it was either ignored or misrepresented. The Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, Times, Sunday Times, Guardian, Independent all ignored this demonstration. The Observer of Sunday 11 November 2001 in a column under the title "Crisis in brief" contained five items, the last of which was this:
Note that the above picture from Il Manifesto is not Piazza del Popolo. Il Manifesto is making a pun. Since "popolo" means "people" and there are many people, they have titled it thus. This explains the lower case "p" on "popolo". What actually happened in Piazza del Popolo was a much smaller rally organised by prime minister Berlusconi, which is what the Observer has chosen to devote its attention to.
Hawks and doves fly the flag
Rome was divided by war and peace yesterday as tens of thousands of people attended a pro-US rally at the same time as protesters denounced the Afghan conflict just a few streets away. Holding aloft a sea of US and Italian flags the American supporters chanted 'USA, USA'. 'Today, we are all citizens of New York,' Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told the crowd in Rome's Piazza del Popolo.
Here are the techniques that the Observer has used to hide from its readers the demonstration that you see pictured above:
- In an article of 69 words, The Observer has used 11 words for the mainstream demonstration and devoted 46 words to the minority rally that the typical Italian did not attend. So by the focus of its attention, the Observer is implying, but not actually saying, that the the Berlusconi rally was the main rally. (Note that I've taken the remaining 12 words -"Rome was divided by war and peace yesterday ...at the same time"- to apply equally to both demonstrations.)
- The Observer has estimated the number of people at the Berlusconi rally as tens of thousands, but given no indication of the (much higher) numbers at the main rally.
- By the use of the metaphor "divided by war and peace", the Observer has managed to introduce the word "war" into the article and imply that the people attending the Berlusconi rally were demonstrating support for a war. I myself saw the posters in Italy advertising the rally as "pro-US" and "contro il terrorismo" and it was not billed as a rally in support of war. So while it's a fair bet that everyone on the big march pictured above was opposed to an attack on Afghanistan, there is no reason to assume that everyone at the Berlusconi rally supported a war.
- This false impression is strengthened by the choice of title "Hawks and doves fly the flag". In the kind of imprecise language that newspapers like the Observer use, a "hawk" is someone who advocates war. The Observer's clear implication then, is that the people at the Berlusconi rally are "hawks", which means that they support a war.
- Finally, notice that as far as The Observer is concerned, those who attended Berlusconi's rally are "people" but the those who attended the other rally are "protesters".
What is immediately apparent from the CNN website is the remarkable absence of pictures showing how many people were at the "pro-US" march. There are lots of celebrities and flags in front of the camera, but where are the people? Only one picture contains more than a handful, and in that there are about enough to fill a large theatre.
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