Getting your point across

Something that’s come to mind in respect of the Israeli state’s Pirates of the Mediterranean performance this last week has been the issue of media. Liam has a pithy take on Israel’s hasbara maestro Mark Regev, the cause of many a broken TV screen, not least in the early hours of Monday’s news from the Freedom Flotilla as BBC News 24 seemed to have Regev and other Israeli spokespeople on a permanent loop and facing softball questioning – it took quite a while for countervailing voices to appear, and initially they were from Hamas, with everything that implies.

The other piece that caught my eye was Andy’s one on whether the BBC is institutionally biased on the Israel-Palestine question. It’s an important discussion to have, because it raises the question of how activists can use the media. This was the subject of a long ongoing conversation that both Andy and myself amongst others have been having with Madam Miaow, whose views on this issue I would give quite a lot of weight to given her chops earned by her brilliant press work for Stop the War. I take her points on board, and there are plenty of activists who could benefit from paying attention to her insights. (Especially in a situation like this, where there’s someone who has a proven ability, who has been doing work behind the scenes, and whose skills the left resolutely refuses to use.)

The reflections that follow, though, are my own responsibility though very much informed by what Anna has been saying to me. Further disclaimer: I’m not in the loop as regards Viva Palestina and don’t have inside knowledge of the media work that was actually done. Rather than casting about for blame in this instance – those who do have the inside knowledge are best placed to make any criticisms – I’m interested in what can positively be done to sharpen up our act.

Firstly: being quick off the mark. Obviously, since the Israelis attacked the flotilla, they were prepared in advance. So what? There are these wonderful things called contingency plans. So, if you know it’s possible that there might be a violent confrontation – and you can never rule out violence on the part of the IDF – you prepare for the eventuality. One thing that struck me for much of Monday was that neither the British government nor the media seemed to be aware that there were Brits on board – William Hague was talking about “if” there were Brits on board. In fact there were around thirty British citizens and another ten or so British residents, but it took a while for this to filter out.

Now, as I say, I’m not in the loop, and hadn’t been following the flotilla particularly closely, but even I knew that Kevin Ovenden was on board. (And I’m very glad he’s all right.) But this took quite some time to get into the public domain, thanks to his name being circulated on Twitter and then being picked up by the Guardian‘s live blog at 3.32pm. (Anna to the rescue again. Given the resources the organised left should have been able to bring to bear, that it should be up to an individual working on her own, without any acknowledgment from the left I should say, is outrageous.) Had I been involved, it would have seemed natural to have a list of the Brits on board, together with potted biographies and photos – just in case anything happened. It’s also good PR, because the media will always be interested in Brits in peril.

This is quite elementary. It’s understandable that TV in particular will want images – and the Israelis played up to that by videoing the assault while confiscating phones and cameras from their prisoners. You need to be able to offer the media something in return, and raising the question of “what’s happening to the Brits?” is a good one.

This leads me on to Andy’s point about BBC bias. It’s true that in certain circumstances, usually when there’s a crisis, the Beeb can be susceptible to Israeli pressure. But this isn’t constant – for instance, Jeremy Bowen’s reporting is usually very good, and the BBC does take a lot of flak from Israel and its British supporters over his work. More important, I think, is that the macro-level decisions like Mark Thompson blocking the screening of the charity appeal for Gaza are not necessarily reflected in hour-to-hour coverage, especially on an outlet like News 24 where there is an awful lot of airtime to fill. Most journalists are not all that ideological – they take news as being product – and BBC journalists in particular are hardwired to look for the other side of the argument. We’re not talking here in terms of “they have Melanie Phillips and we have Seumas Milne”, but of the jobbing journos – not the op-ed writers – whose brief is to cover the story. If you get in there quickly as representing the other side of the argument, you can make some impact.

We learned this from the experience of Stop the War, which not only had a great press officer who was damn good at spotting cracks in the system to take advantage of but managed to do what it did due to breaking with the old attitudes of the left. It’s worth remarking of StW that, despite its recent rewriting of its history, it was not founded in 2001. It was founded in the late 1990s by Paul Foot and made no impact whatsoever in the media – it was just another one of the SWP’s off-the-shelf campaigns. What changed between 2001 and 2003 was not only a heightening of the political atmosphere around Afghanistan and Iraq, but also a complete change in attitude that led to StW getting out there and becoming a live part of public debate – directly because of that sharp press work. That meant, in the first instance, an end to the defeatism that said that, since the media were biased, there was no point in even trying.

What was proved in that instance was that, if you’ve got something to say and you’re willing to put the work in, they won’t necessarily ignore you. To be honest, the impact made then put to shame all the NUJ members who are hanging around the left and who had failed to make that impact in previous years. And, and this is important, it wasn’t just a question of flair and imagination – it was a matter of doing the basics in a field that isn’t rocket science. Getting professionally composed press releases out, building up relationships with journalists and editors who’ll then know where to go for an opinion, having your list of people who can do media appearances, spotting an opportunity to grab a headline – none of this is particularly baffling, and even I can spot on these occasions what needs to be done even if I don’t have the skill set to do it myself.

So, when the flotilla was ambushed on Monday morning, it should have been clear what needed to be done. A lot of people were very angry, of course. There were the impromptu demonstrations, which were great, and lots of people were blogging and tweeting throughout the day. What I didn’t get any sense of was any coordinated media effort from our side. Not just that there was nobody appearing in the studios for interviews, but that there didn’t seem to be a concerted push to get the right talking points out. The “where’s Kevin?” line would have been a good one to take, not only because we didn’t know for some considerable time whether he was alive or dead, but also because, as I’ve said, Brits in peril abroad go to the top of the bulletin, and being at the top of the bulletin was the safest place for Kevin and the other hostages to be.

Observing from the outside, I got a strong sense of a vacuum, and a vacuum is something that can’t be afforded. You see, those of us who have some involvement in pro-Palestine activity work on the assumption that Mark Regev is telling outrageous lies, but he can be quite charming and fluent, especially if the interviewer isn’t well briefed, and is helped along by Israeli control of the footage coming from the flotilla. When you think about what the punter in the street will make of the news coverage, bear in mind that a vacuum is dangerous because bullshit will expand to fill the space available. You need people on there from the PSC or Stop the War or Viva Palestina who are briefed in advance, who can hold up under questioning and who can put the other side of the argument convincingly. Because even if the propaganda battle is unequal, you can’t use that as an excuse for not taking part in the battle. Think of the way the Tory press monstered Neil Kinnock in the 1980s – at one point Kinnock had had enough and decided to just not talk to the papers any more. Understandable on a human level, but much good did it do him.

There has to be a break from the bad old ways when things are this important – and, if comrades are going to put themselves in harm’s way, it doesn’t get much more important. The left does have a horrible track record of not only being awful in how it approaches the media; there’s also the aspect of how this fits in to bad habits in left organising. I know for certain of people who were assets to our side who were deliberately undermined for reasons of organisational rivalry or simply crabby egos; and of talented people being moved out of vital positions while being replaced by people who were blatantly unsuited for the job but had the right connections. I could go on at length, and sometimes do. If this is how the left acts internally, no wonder its external work too often looks like amateur hour.

Listen, I don’t want to be unremittingly negative about this. I think, for instance, that Viva Palestina is a brilliant initiative, and wish more people knew about it. The left is still very good at organising demos. What we need is to brush up on trying to frame the public debate – starting with disadvantages, sure, but there’s certainly plenty of talent knocking around the left if it can be properly utilised. That means two things. It means setting the egos and rivalries aside when there are important issues at stake. Regular readers will know that I’m far from uncritical of John Rees, but if John is appearing on Newsnight to discuss Gaza then I really want him to do well.

It also means building up a cadre of people who know how the media work, who can do press and who can coordinate amongst themselves. The idea of a united left press centre is far too grandiose, but certainly there should be a pool of good people doing this work, they should be expanding the pool and they should have enough lines of communication open to make sure that whoever is taking the lead (it may be, for instance, PSC or StW on something like this) takes the lead and gets backed up. Crucial to this is spreading the knowledge, which is something recognised on one level as so many left conferences have media workshops.

The late Tony Cliff used to talk about Socialist Worker being a paper with three thousand reporters. For various reasons too boring to go into, that never really transpired. But the democratisation of the media through cheap technology and the internet mean there are greater opportunities now than ever before for activism to enter into public debate. The missing link is a smart approach to the mass media, which is where most people will get their news. Is there the will, or the nous, to do something about this?

Many thanks again to Anna for her insights on this issue, as someone who can see with absolute clarity what needs to be done. The interpretation and any mistakes are of course my own.


  1. Oliver Shykles said,

    June 5, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    Great post.

    This bit was particularly spot on:

    “(Anna to the rescue again. Given the resources the organised left should have been able to bring to bear, that it should be up to an individual working on her own, without any acknowledgment from the left I should say, is outrageous.)”

  2. Tom Griffin said,

    June 5, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    Interesting that the bloke who ran the social media effort for Israel during Operation Cast lead is complaining about a lack of preparedness from the Foreign Ministry this time around.
    His blog is in Hebrew, but you can get the jist with Google translate etc:

    There’s an interesting paper from the 2010 Herzliya Conference on the Israeli approach to social media here:

    Click to access 3035Newmediafinal.pdf

    And another one on strategic communication that kind of back ups your argument:

    Some participants noted that new media’s importance should not be over estimated. Although the trajectory of media
    development points towards the internet and new media, polls show that most people still receive news from the
    conventional news outlets: BBC, CNN, Fox News and the leading local newspaper. In order to impact today’s
    opinion-makers, working vis-à-vis conventional media is still the chief objective

    Click to access 3051winning.pdf

  3. robert said,

    June 5, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    Totally agree. If the left is serious it has to care more about media managment than sectarian egos. This applies as much to domestic issues as foreign affairs. There is a total silence where opposition to Purnell and IDS’ s welfare “reforms” should be.

  4. ejh said,

    June 5, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    I don’t agree, not because I don’t think anything you say is true but because I think some of your premises might need looking at.

    First, I’m almost professionally suspicious of claims that “the left has a horrible track record on….” which are almost always followed up by declarations of what the left must do. You can do this from almost any left point of view (Sunny Hurndal will perform the same task on any given day from a very different starting point to yours) and insofar as it serves any purpose other than self-flagellation, it’s almost always to demand that the left show a unity of purpose and organisation which it cannot do. “The left” is not a thing, not an organisation, not a malleable body of people. It cannot “build up a cadre”. It cannot muster “a concerted media effort”. It won’t set egos and rivalries aside because it is composed of human beings. It looks like amateur hour because people are amateurs.

    It’s worth remembering Abbie Hoffmann’s line during the Chicago trial – “conspiracy? We couldn’t agree on lunch” – but it’s not even the disagreements and rivalries that I mean (though I wouldn’t forget them, as they will always, always be there). It’s just that you can’t really ask an amorphous and sizeable number of people to act in a co-ordinated manner, and for this reason, although you can make this recommendation or that, any of which may be perfectly good, you can’t actually do much to change the habits – or rather, the many different and disparate habits – of the left.

    It’s useful not to think of the left as if it were a party. (I think a lot of people who say “the left should do such-and-such” are essentially doing this, though the identity and nature of the party they’re imagining will differ.) It’s also possibly useful not to think of it as “a bunch of people on a small number of websites whose major activities are making strident declarations and denouncing one another”. And once we get beyond that small and unattractive circle, I wonder whether they are so dreadful after all: whether they’re not often quite good at, say, getting film of police violence out to sympathetic journalists. But when you say, for instance, “having your list of people who can do media appearances” – who is the subject here? Who is the you who should have a “list”?

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      June 5, 2010 at 9:54 pm

      Don’t start me on Sunny Hundal. He’s a lovely bloke, but…

      Who should have a list? In the context of the Gaza episode, the relevant groups would be StW, PSC and Viva Palestina. In other contexts, other groups. I suppose what I’d like is a cultural change.

      Maybe what I’d like to be done can’t be done. But Jesus, wouldn’t it be worth making the effort?

      • ejh said,

        June 5, 2010 at 10:07 pm

        Probably not. Very little is worth the effort.

  5. harpymarx said,

    June 6, 2010 at 10:17 am

    “Who should have a list? In the context of the Gaza episode, the relevant groups would be StW, PSC and Viva Palestina. In other contexts, other groups. I suppose what I’d like is a cultural change.”

    I agree with that Splinty!

    “This was the subject of a long ongoing conversation that both Andy and myself amongst others have been having with Madam Miaow, whose views on this issue I would give quite a lot of weight to given her chops earned by her brilliant press work for Stop the War. I take her points on board, and there are plenty of activists who could benefit from paying attention to her insights. (Especially in a situation like this, where there’s someone who has a proven ability, who has been doing work behind the scenes, and whose skills the left resolutely refuses to use.)”

    That is true and the left needs comrades like Anna with expertise, insight and knowledge on a situation like this dealing with the media.

  6. June 6, 2010 at 10:39 am

    […] Getting your message out… 6 06 2010 Splintered Sunrise makes very good points in his excellent post about how the left can sharpen up its act in getting the messa…. […]

  7. Alex Snowdon said,

    June 6, 2010 at 11:33 am

    I found this a rather strange post to read at first. I have been very engaged with this issue, as an activist as well as online, since last Monday. I organised our local protest on Tuesday and oversaw getting a contingent from Newcastle to yesterday’s demo in London. I’ve also spent a lot of time on blogs, Twitter and Facebook, picking up on what people are saying about all sorts of issues involved.

    The strange thing is this: I haven’t heard or read a single person – not one – raising the concern that pro-Palestine organisations did a poor media job in reaction to Monday’s news. Nobody at all has even mentioned it as a possible concern. This post is all about addressing something that is supposed be a concern or problem, but I’ve simply not been aware of anyone considering it a problem.

    Does this mean it automatically ISN’T a weakness? Not necessarily. Perhaps there are indeed things that could have been done better. However, I think there are 2 excellent reasons why people – especially those of us active in organising and building protests – haven’t perceived a problem here.

    The first is a basic reality check. These have been busy days and people in the organisations cited above – including those at national level – have had a great deal to do. There are competing priorities and the main focus will always be – absolutely correctly, in my view – on mobilsing people. If the media work doesn’t get done as meticulously as it could be, it’s not some great failing. It’s because there’s bloody loads to do, these organisations don’t have lots of full-time staff, and there’s very little time. Activists tend to understand this through direct experience.

    Having said that, it’s worth recognising that the main organisations involved have still gone out of their way to use the media where possible. An excellent example is the PSC press conference on Thursday, at which Sarah Colborne (fresh from the airport) shared her experiences of the attack and its aftermath. This was a powerful example of using the media to get the case across.

    But this also reminds us of my point about taking a reality check: Sarah Colborne is one of PSC’s very few full-timers, so that’s one key person who wasn’t around to help the organisation respond to what happened on Monday. These are not well-funded organisation with large workforces.

    The second point is more general and theoretical. Let’s not lose sight of a simple fact: what might be called the struggle for hegemony is not happening on an even playing field. There are uneven distributions of wealth and power. Other people have more of those things than us! There is, in all sorts of ways, a strong structural bias against us.

    If BBC programmes pay more attention to Mark Regev than to representatives of PSC, StW and Viva Palestina, it’s not because the movement is doing a bad job in its media work. It’s because of systematic bias, which is unsurprising to anyone with a left-wing analysis of the media and its role in a capitalist society.

    There’s a danger of naively underestimating how tough it is to get airtime or press coverage. Most of the media particularly hate giving space to activists, just as they give very poor coverage to protests. Let’s not delude ourselves this would change with a sharper media operation.

    None of this means there’s no point in trying to get more and better media coverage. But the organisations behind this week’s protests have done admirable work – in difficult circumstances and with little resources (I don’t think Viva Palestina have any full-time workers at all, btw) – in using the media where possible. It’s therefore surprising to see this used as a suppsoed example of ‘the left’ failing to exploit the media properly.

  8. Madam Miaow said,

    June 6, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    ” If the media work doesn’t get done as meticulously as it could be, it’s not some great failing. It’s because there’s bloody loads to do, these organisations don’t have lots of full-time staff, and there’s very little time. Activists tend to understand this through direct experience.”

    Some of us are aware of this. Alex. Through direct experience. Experience with positive results. Sadly, ego and sectarianism gets in the way and a critical vacuum opens up with certain parties asleep at the wheel. Self-criticism might be a better bet for our side than denial and self-justification.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      June 6, 2010 at 8:00 pm

      It’s also something that tends to pass by activists who are very heavily involved in these issues. Which is why activists are always being surprised when ordinary punters haven’t even heard the arguments they take for granted. It’s not of course the only thing that needs done, but somebody needs to do it – and the old mentality that it isn’t worth doing won’t wash.

    • Alex Snowdon said,

      June 6, 2010 at 8:15 pm

      The problem is that there isn’t a scrap of evidence to support the idea that either ‘ego’ or ‘sectarianism’ has affected ANY aspect of ANY activist organisation’s media response to Monday’s events. This is a fairly elementary but important point to get straight. Someone might wish to make a more general case along the lines of ‘ego and sectarianism inhibit the media work of a number of campaigns’ (which would, in my view, be an overwhelmingly misguided case), but there’s no grounds for applying it to the events of this week.

      • Madam Miaow said,

        June 7, 2010 at 10:26 am

        Alex, there was a bloody great vacuum for those crucial early hours when the falsehoods were allowed to set like concrete. Those like myself who have a track record when it comes to rapid and effective response were excluded a long time ago and repeatedly since by those in a leadership capacity — your heroes — out of ego. Which leaves some of us yet again trying to help out with both hands tied behind our backs.

        The left has the resources but won’t use them.

        Glad to see some good press now coming out of IMS and others but now our side is playing catch-up.

  9. June 6, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    […] The best explanatory article yet on the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Also, Splintered Sunrise on how the amazing PR machine that is the Israeli diplomatic corr could be opposed. […]

  10. David Hillman said,

    June 6, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    Alex is right that most campaigns are done by ordinary working people with few or no full time staff. And even in branches where there are big numbers of members most of the time the work falls on a handfull of vey active individuals who also have jobs and families. No complaints there.
    So at a time like this when dozens of people step forward willing to work their guts out for the cause, its important to have a couple of people in charge of publicity – I mean in every locality,not just nationally.
    The problem is not with journalists but with editors. Even when there are good journalists, and journalists that you cultivate, things can be misreported or unreported due to editorial decisions. This can be overcome.
    Local news can not resist a good human interest story. It has to be personal. It has to have a local interest.
    In Oxford we find that while talks and demos may go unreported, stories about kids from refugee camps we bring to Oxford, and local young people staying in Ramallah work well. And after a long time of being ignored we have now successfully pushed for the story of the Oxford taxi drivers ambulance to Gaza being properly told. It all takes persistence, sometimes feeling you are pushing on brick walls. But PSC has had similar successes in several Northern towns too.
    But as for the BBC – I’ve complained and complained to them till I’m blue in the face. All I’m asking is that they report things and report the truth. BBc journalists would like us to apply more pressure.

    • Madam Miaow said,

      June 7, 2010 at 10:32 am

      “Alex is right that most campaigns are done by ordinary working people with few or no full time staff.”

      David, Alex is wrong. The resources are there but certain leaders refuse to utilise the skills available. I was happy to have established the STWC press between 2001 and 2003, but it was like being a Roman General returning from the campaigns with some good victories which everyone appreciated and suddenly finding that the Emperor (and Empress) were REALLY pissed off.

      • ejh said,

        June 7, 2010 at 11:48 am

        Not everything is about you, though, is it?

      • Madam Miaow said,

        June 7, 2010 at 12:35 pm

        What a very hasbara method of arguing, ejh.

  11. David Hillman said,

    June 7, 2010 at 12:00 am

    Reading through this
    Propoganda ,
    Sarah Colbourne’s testimony. the Turkish autopsies, and much else. it occurs to me that we (we being all the BDS movement now united), we need to get two people working full out on separating the truth from the propoganda and produce a straight narrative film of what really happened, directed by .. some obvious names pop up.

  12. organic cheeesboard said,

    June 7, 2010 at 9:22 am

    not got much to add to this, but – linked to the ‘where’s Kevin’ thing – did anyone else find it extremely odd that it took (i think) 4 days for the names of the dead to be revealed?

    now for the tangential bit.

    I don’t think that Israel are really interested in foreign PR relations now. The mindset in that country, from the loons to people like Seth Freedman, is one of endemic anti-Israeli bias and antisemitism throughout the world, with the possible exception of America. And the Govt know that their PR effort – professional as it is – is not going to convince anyone who isn’t already convinced – those pisspoor youtube videos, for example, were hardly likely to change my mind. Yes, they stop any other authoritative footage from getting out, leaving news providers with no choice but to run the IDF stuff, but that didn’t exactly halt the unremittingly negative response from op-ed types and politicians alike. I think that Cast Lead was the sea change here; they tried, in Lebanon 2006, to justify the killings but must have realised that unless you have a deep-seated loyalty to the country doing the killing, Qana could not be justified.

    These flotilla killings (professional hits as opposed to self-defensive shots) were actively welcomed by the majority of Israeli citizens, to the extent of large groups actively going ot the ports to congratulate the soldiers. So was Cast Lead. And in both instances they were carried out by weak governments with not much to lose.

  13. ejh said,

    June 7, 2010 at 10:48 am

    I very much agree with Alex above.

    I might add that whiloe of course it’s true that the Israelis too kthe media initiative (I don’t see BBC news bulletins here, by the way, but I do see the BBC website) I think it was clear to everybody within a couple of days that their story vwas false and their actions appalling. And this being so, does it matter that they had the early initative, or does it in fact rather rebound on them, because in addition to their repugnance felt for their actions, there’s disgust at the way they then lied about them?

    I’d offer as supporting cases the killing of Ian Tomlinson (or indeed Jean Charles de Menezes) or the Madrid bombings. In each instance I think the attempt to organise a smear and cover-up very much hurt the people who did it, making it, at very least, much less likely that they’d be believed i nthe future.

    At a tangent – I glanced at the front of El País yesterday and I got the impression that Henning Mankell was on the flotilla. Is that right?

    • Mark P said,

      June 7, 2010 at 11:27 am

      Yes he was. Mankell is an old lefty, formerly a Maoist of some description (Maoism was the dominant far left trend in most of Scandinavia in the 60s and 70s).

  14. Madam Miaow said,

    June 7, 2010 at 11:48 am

    Complacency from afar is understandable, ejh. But when your comrades have been captured and they are rendered invisible by a colluding media, giving their kidnappers time and opportunity to do god knows what, I would suggest that a sense of urgency is required immediately and not a Panglossian, “It’ll turn out alright.”

    From experience, it’s easier to inject truth into the mix right from the start than deal with it when, for many, the lies have set like concrete.

    • neilcaff said,

      June 7, 2010 at 4:46 pm

      I’d agree with MM about urgency.

      Some of our sections in the CWI operate in very authoritarian countries (Kazakstan, Sri Lanka) where it’s standard practice to arrest comrades and start spreading smears about detainees. It’s crucial to get in contact with national and international media organisations, trade unions etc as fast as possible to conteract the lies and start building pressure on the regime to release the comrades.

      On a side note I’ve often found it’s actually easier sometimes to build international pressure on authoritarian regimes than “democratic” ones like Israel. I would put this down to the fact that authoritarian regimes are more paranoid about international legitimacy and good image seeing as they have so little of either. Whereas states like Israel feel much more secure in whatever actions they take because they have a veneer of democracy, rule of law, etc that gives them a certain amount of legitimacy.

  15. Chris Williams said,

    June 7, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Which ‘left’, where? There are several.

    This is, to be blunt, a problem that can only be solved in London. From Alex’s perspective (and from mine – I played a similar role on a local level with StW) we’re doing all that we can on the local level, and not making too bad a job of it. Local media want content and are happy in my experience to give a platform to nearly everyone.

    What we don’t want is for the people in that London, who take our affiliation fees and standing orders, to spend it all on lots of banners with their sect’s name on, rather than on something sensible, like paying a damn fine press officer (and Anna was one of these: I was there and paying attention to the very fine job she did).

    We don’t always cock up, you know. Check out the Open Rights Group. I give them a fiver a month and I’d be happy to do the same for a leftist mouthpiece organisation, provided that it was run by people who I could be reasonably sure wouldn’t just turn it into some Trot slaggathon. I’d be happy to pay Anna (or Dave Osler, or . . . hmm) 1% of a good wage to say left things on my behalf. Anyone else up for that?

    • Chris Williams said,

      June 8, 2010 at 4:40 pm

      ‘Anyone else up for that?’

      I’ll take that as a ‘no’, then. Techies 1 0 Lefties.

      • Madam Miaow said,

        June 9, 2010 at 1:15 am

        Hi Chris,

        I think the resounding silence tells you everything you need to know about the present state of affairs.

        Thanks for your kind endorsement. As it was an emergency I’d have helped out. Officers at Respect, VP and STW have my phone number — you’d have to ask them why they wouldn’t use it. I did try contacting VP on the day but have heard nothing back. Leaders offering leadership, that would be a fine thing.

  16. ejh said,

    June 7, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong….

    • Madam Miaow said,

      June 7, 2010 at 4:00 pm

      A lie can be halfway around the world before the truth even has its boots on.

      • ejh said,

        June 7, 2010 at 4:08 pm

        But mine is the more poetic quotation, and the more truthful.

      • Madam Miaow said,

        June 7, 2010 at 4:10 pm

        Not in practice.

      • ejh said,

        June 7, 2010 at 4:43 pm

        Well, as I say above, it’s not clear to me that your concerns are valid in this particular practice, in which it’s surely the Israeli side which is under great pressure regardless (and to some degree because) of the fact that they got their media retaliation in first. So whether or not your general case is valid (of which I’m unconvinced) this particular example doesn’t seem to me to support it.

    • jp said,

      June 7, 2010 at 4:46 pm

      ejh, it may seem too elementary a question, but shouldn’t you just bow out of the discussion if efforts are pointless? pointless in the cosmological sense it may be, but we have the ability to make it count in the here and now. if you are saying that sometimes it works out better to do nothing, per the tao, i’d agree, but i doubt that’s what you are saying.

      I can’t quite understand the apologies made in this post for the bbc’s news coverage, in general – the most that can be said of it is that it’s better than that of the USA.

      • ejh said,

        June 7, 2010 at 4:59 pm

        But I’ve not said efforts are pointless, or anything like it, have I? I’m saying that it’s not always necessary to get your blow in first, or to panic because the other side did. And I am perhaps also saying that you cannot control these things, and that there’s no need to panic about this either.

      • jp said,

        June 7, 2010 at 6:09 pm

        actually, you did say something like it, but thanks for the clarification.

    • June 7, 2010 at 6:16 pm

      “I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong”….From Ecclesiastes; which espouses a contradictory set of values, to say the least.

      “A lie can be halfway around the world before the truth even has its boots on” …From Mark Twain; perhaps the most biting, trenchant and important non-Marxist critic of US imperialism this blighted land has ever produced.

      As for poetry, ejh, have you ever read Twain’s “King Leopold’s Soliloquy”? It poetically destroys the pretenses of power with a force that the authors of Ecclesiastes would find satanic.

      Poetry aside, as an anti-imperialist, given a choice between the views of Sam Clemens and Qohelet, Clemens wins every time.

  17. Chris Williams said,

    June 7, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    . . . but that’s the way to bet.


  18. David Hillman said,

    June 7, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Well here’s the story we have to get out now!

  19. Chris C said,

    June 7, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    My starting point is that I agree with much of the article as press strategy is a general area that needs development for ‘the left’. It is one of the issues that the Respect Party has been working through since the general election and it is one that clearly affected the latest eruption of the Gaza solidarity movement (which is becoming one of the great movements of our time).

    The problem with suggesting this for an organization like Viva Palestina is that it betrays how little you are involved with it. The fact is that VP is largely a volunteer operation – the website is run by someone with a full time job, the regional coordinators all have full time jobs, there is one person who runs the office in London, all members of the convoy take time off work and raise their costs and there is no media officer. Because much of the backbone for this voluntary organization has been Respect members, we often find ourselves juggling several political commitments as well as personal or professional commitments.

    An example or two. When the Blackburn and Burnley lads were arrested at the start of the first convoy, I was North West coordinator of VP. Six of the drivers registered through me so I could move quickly and knew I was not dealing with ‘terrorists’ so could issue a press counter attack. However, three had registered through another route that took me three months to uncover (nothing sinister, just that the movement was genuinely spontaneous and ad hoc offices were springing up all over). This presented some challenges as I had to quickly discover who they were and assess their position while they were being held. There was also the challenge of turning a bemused and anxious organization that required a special meeting for us to win the ‘political arrest’ line. Was a contingency possible? Maybe, but everything else was ad hoc in a convoy put together in 3 weeks.

    In the example you analyze, I was not directly involved in the organization of VP this time around. When the full horror of what had occurred struck us on Monday morning, we mobilized a Manchester demonstration first for the same day. Once this was done, we started to take stock of the media reaction and develop a press strategy. This was created ad hoc with volunteers in Birmingham, London and Manchester and there was duplication as we scrambled. VP and PSC were in the dark about what had happened and who was detained. They were also deluged with relatives and trying to get the Foreign Office to act.

    We all had several other jobs as well but were working all night, realizing the danger our comrades were in. On Tuesday afternoon, after attending a PSC public meeting and writing website articles and press releases, I scanned the blogs before another demonstration and found Madam Miaow’s insight on the naming of the detained on SU blog (huge gratitude to her). The Respect National Secretary and I had taken the decision to gamble by getting Kevin Ovenden’s name out (we feared for his life) overnight so this chimed with me. I rang around and we put the list together (even then it was still missing 4) then I read it out at the Manchester demonstration. It was filmed and issued on all websites and press releases we could get near.

    My reaction to your piece is that you are right but we need people with expertise to volunteer to help. Everyone on the left knew about the flotilla and knows that a new land and sea convoy leaves on 12 September. However, I sense that there is still a snobbery about practical solidarity and getting involved with people that have not read their Lenin or Trotsky (even worse, some read the Koran). Much of the old left has sat on the sidelines while this international movement has taken shape (analyzing that would be an interesting post as well). Get stuck in – we stand on the edge of history as the siege of Gaza totters.

  20. Richard Searle said,

    June 9, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    my thoughts are that Anna and others should be invited to put together a media team for the next convoy/flotilla in September.

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