Objective reporting? Press coverage of London demonstration of 2 March 2002

by Stephen Hewitt

A woman's head covered in cloth, only eyes visible and a few out-of-focus heads and placards behind her.
Fig 1. Photo from 'The Independent on Sunday' 3 March 2002, page 4

In editions of Sunday 3 March 2002, two UK national newspapers briefly covered the Stop the War demonstration in London the day before and in both cases the coverage is open to the criticism of manipulation and divisive, agenda-driven reporting.

The Independent on Sunday published a selective photograph and the Observer's words tended to the impression that this was a demonstration of radical campaigning people.

From a demonstration that by its own estimate attracted over 15,000 people, The Independent on Sunday published a photograph (Fig 1) showing only a single, selected individual and the person chosen looked like a strict Muslim, a woman with her head and face wrapped, only her eyes visible, taken at a demonstration where it would have taken some searching to find anyone dressed in this way.

Less selective photographs from the demonstration give a somewhat different impression of the people who went.

Behind her, a few out-of-focus placards are the only glimpse that the Independent allows of the thousands of other people on the demonstration.

The Independent provided the following caption.

"MARK LEES/PA For peace: at least 15,000 people, including Tony Benn, converged on Trafalgar Square yesterday to protest against American plans for action against Iraq. Tony Blair will meet George Bush early next month for talks. See page 18"
The Independent on Sunday 3 March 2002, page 4

The Observer printed the following, which is also on its website:

Thousands in anti-war demo

About 10,000 protesters gathered in Trafalgar Square yesterday to demonstrate against the US `axis of evil' campaign, writes Burhan Wazir.

Brought together by the Stop the War coalition, the demonstrators included Arab human rights groups, socialist parties and anti-globalisation campaigners. Prominent speakers included Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbin and Tariq Ali.

Observer Sunday 3 March 2002, page 7 in a column under the title "News in brief"

The Observer's words create the impression that only radical campaigning people were on this march, and they make no mention ordinary citizens, or those on a demonstration for the first time in their lives. Of course, the "included" means that we cannot on a literal level say that the Observer is incorrect.

Neither does "axis of evil" generally represent what was displayed on placards and banners at the demonstration.

The Independent on Sunday reports there were "more than 15,000 people". The Observer reports there were "about 10,000".