This is the text of a report by historian Dr. Bernard Barrett on events at the World Economix Forum in Melbourne in September 2000.
It was forwarded to the Office of the Ombudsman, Victoria, on November 15, 2000.
- March 2001: Legal Observer Team Report on the World Economic Forum Protests
- June 2001: Ombudsman’s Report on police action at the World Economic Forum demonstrations
- “Media Beat-ups”, by Bernard Barrett, in Screen Education
A Report on Police Batons and the News Media at the World Economic Forum, Melbourne, September 2000
by Dr. Bernard Barrett, Historian
Forwarded to the Office of the Ombudsman, Victoria, 15 November 2000
Revised 28 November 2000
From 1977 until he retired in 1993, the author was the State Historian for the Government of Victoria, responsible for promoting research and public awareness about Victoria’s cultural heritage.
- Making history
- The World Economic Forum and the media
- Early coverage of the protest plans
- Behind the scenes
- Coverage of the events of Monday 11 September
- Coverage of the events of Tuesday 12 September
- Coverage of the events of Wednesday 13 September
- Later coverage
In a Melbourne street, just before dawn on Tuesday 12 September 2000, television cameras recorded a significant event in Australia’s political history. Baton-wielding police, from the paramilitary Force Response Unit, swooped upon 50 citizens who were holding a political assembly on a major public issue. The police wore helmets and visors, making their faces unrecognisable. Furthermore, most had removed their personal name tags from their jackets, thereby becoming unaccountable.
The 50 civilians were sitting passively and quietly on the pavement at a vehicle gateway outside Melbourne’s Crown Casino. The FRU police, assisted by mounted police and others, surrounded the civilians, making it difficult for anyone to escape the kicks and blows.
The police had given these 50 citizens no forewarning about this baton-charge and had not directed them to move. Police regulations permit officers to use enough force to make an arrest or to prevent a crime. However, this attack resulted in no arrests or charges. At worst, the citizens were obstructing a vehicle thoroughfare but the lawful penalty for this is perhaps a fine, not a thrashing. Punishments are supposed to be administered by the courts, not by police. And corporal punishment is not normally practised in Victoria.
No police were injured in this incident but ambulance paramedics treated the injured civilians, sending some to hospital.
The attack is also significant because the civilians included two members of the New Zealand Parliament. This may well be the first time that Victorian police have physically attacked members of a parliament.
Twelve hours later, after dusk, the Force Response Unit carried out another baton-charge at the same gateway against an assembly of about 100 civilians. The police also targeted news photographers, injuring some and smashing their equipment.
The success of this day’s police operations is measured not in arrests but in the number of civilians injured. The media reported that about 70 people were injured in the two attacks, including 24 who were taken to hospital.
However, newspaper stories and television news scripts during the preceding three months had built up an expectation that these 70 injured civilians were criminally "violent" and that they deserved "what was coming to them".
The purpose of this paper is to examine the articles and scripts about "violence" in the light of the available television footage.
For three days beginning on Monday 11 September, Melbourne hosted two big meetings relating to global corporations. Inside the Crown gambling complex was a private meeting of 800 corporate high-rollers, convened by the World Economic Forum, which is a non-government organisation representing the world’s global corporations. Outside the Casino, on the surrounding streets, was a public meeting of thousands of citizens, protesting against global corporatisation and economic rationalism. The grievances were international (protesting against the growth of "non-elected, unaccountable global corporations", richer and more powerful than many governments) and local (protesting against the deregulation of Australia’s economy and the downgrading of working conditions and community services).
In newspapers and television news-bulletins, the meeting of the insiders was reported favourably and the outsiders’ meeting unfavourably. This may be related to the fact that the WEF members include owners of Australian media corporations. The outsiders, on the other hand, do not own daily newspapers or television stations and they do not hire advertising firms or public relations consultants.
For the three months leading up to the WEF meeting, I have collected relevant stories from four newspapers (the Age, the Australian, the Australian Financial Review and the Herald Sun), together with videotapes of relevant items from evening TV news bulletins (ABC and SBS and Channels 7, 9 and 10). It is interesting to compare the words with the TV footage. Did they match?
During the months of preparation, the protest convenors (a temporary coalition of diverse organisations with the umbrella label "S11 Alliance") had said they intended to use non-violent tactics because, they said, any violence would detract from their cause. Workshops were held about how to protest non-violently. However, the Melbourne media built up an expectation of violence. The earliest headlines included:
ACTIVISTS, POLICE BRACE FOR A RUCKUS (Sunday Age, 4 June).
POLICE FEAR PROTEST RIOTS (Herald Sun, 10 June).
GROUP BOOSTS FORUM PROTEST (Herald Sun, 26 June).
VIOLENCE AT WORLD FORUM, POLICE WARN (Australian, 8 July).
FEAR OF VIOLENT PROTESTS (Australian, 18 August).
RAG-TAG PROTEST ARMY MASSES (Australian, 19 August).
‘20,000’ TO HIT TRADE FORUM (Sunday Age, 20 August).
VIOLENCE FEARS CLOSE STORES (Herald Sun, 5 September).
HELP AT HAND FOR PROTEST VIOLENCE (Australian, 6 September).
FORUM CHIEF LASHES WILD PROTESTERS (Herald Sun, 8 September).
Thus, the protest was labelled as "violent" long before it took place.
These articles usually mentioned a protest held outside a meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle, USA, in November 1999, that "ended in violence". Most of these articles involved input from the Victoria Police public relations office. It has been pointed out by Dr David Baker, lecturer in criminal justice at Monash University (in the Age, 16 September 2000), that the police command wanted to perform well at the WEF protests because it had been criticised for "caving in" to trade unionists during demonstrations on the Melbourne docks in April 1998. Furthermore, the police officers’ union had an interest in emphasising the dangers of duty at the WEF protests. The Police Association lodged an industrial claim in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission for two extra days off, which could be redeemed in cash, for officers working at the WEF (Herald Sun, 6 September).
Television news bulletins during August and early September had similar items about "WEF violence fears". The channels all played footage from the Seattle protests. For example, Channel Seven played Seattle footage on 19 August, although the only violence shown on the screen came from the police, not the protesters – for example, police firing tear-gas at citizens, police roughly dragging a limp citizen along the ground, police hitting citizens with batons and police kicking a bystander’s bicycle. This footage looked like a riot by the police, not by citizens. This is not to say that no civilian committed violence in Seattle, just that Australian TV did not show it.
For weeks on radio "talk" programs, commercial station 3AW’s Neil Mitchell (8.30am to 12 noon) and Steve Price (4pm to 6pm) continually denigrated the proposed "violent protest", and ABC Radio’s Jon Faine (8.30am to 12 noon) also did this on several occasions (e.g., on Friday 18 August).
In the days before the WEF meeting, the predictions of violence became more strident. On 4 September an editorial in the Australian warned that the protesters "must accept the consequences". On Saturday 9 September the Herald Sun’s front page was headed: POLICE VOW TO STOP S11 VIOLENCE. The story said that "fire and ambulance crews have been instructed to be ready for any threat from radical protesters, including arson and chemical attacks." On Monday 11 September, the first morning of the WEF meeting, the Herald Sun’s front page talked again about "fears of violence".
The same Herald Sun story also claimed that "radical demonstrators have vowed to scale barricades and break the police cordon", although the protest convenors had already said this was not on their agenda. (A month after the conference, the Herald Sun’s claim was repeated by Stewart McArthur MP when he said in a speech in Federal Parliament on 9 October that the protesters on 11-13 September had been "trying to invade the conference".)
How did this media campaign against the protesters begin? A clue is found in one of the first press reports about the protest plans, in the Sunday Age, 4 June 2000. This item states: “Superintendent Peter Halloran, a spokesman for the Victoria Police, said senior police had been in contact with their Seattle counterparts to prepare for any protests surrounding the World Economic Forum…”
What tactics were available for the Victoria Police to learn from their American counterparts? Recent protests (from Seattle in 1999 to Los Angeles in August 2000) reveal a pattern of counter-measures being taken by US police. An American writer, Tim Ream, says: “Police departments …begin a multi-faceted media campaign designed to make protest organizers appear to be involved in preparations for violence. Police departments have … released videos of protest from other cities, held meetings with individual media organizations and created a mythic notion of an organization dedicated to violence…”
Ream says: ” Mass media and public perceptions are being systematically manipulated by police departments and other government agencies faced with upcoming mass protests in their cities. These manipulations are designed to squelch protest and thereby the message of dissent.” This article (‘Unrestrained stories: False police claims of protester violence’, Los Angeles Independent Media Centre, 10 August 2000) was found at: http://www.la.indymedia.org/display.php3?article_id=543.
Something similar seems to have happened in Melbourne from June to September 2000.
According to the Australian Financial Review (28-29 August), the WEF conference was preceded by a flurry of public relations activity, ensuring that the media (and therefore the public) were turned against
the protesters. As the paper noted, the proposed protests were aimed against some of the world’s biggest corporations. The AFR’s Ben Potter wrote:
"The risk for multinationals and groups like the WTO [the World Trade Organisation] and the WEF is that their efforts to defend themselves against these articulate gadflies can leave them looking clayfooted. As a result, they’re losing the PR war among a significant minority of young and not-so-young people who’ve rejected the pre-digested, heavily filtered reporting they reckon we’re forced to swallow by the mainstream media."
The AFR’s Rowan Callick, said that therefore one of the world’s largest public relations firms, Hill and Knowlton, was "offering WEF-related crisis management services" to its Australian clients, "focusing on corporate reputations and employees’ safety in the light
of S11 aims and the Seattle experience.” Hill and Knowlton circulated a "background brief" to Australian corporations about the protest and the protesters but this contained inaccurate information. The brief said the 1999 Seattle protest occurred outside a meeting of the World Economic Forum, when in fact it was the World Trade Organisation: "The last WEF [sic] meeting held in Seattle, Washington State, US, from November 29 – December 3 last year resulted in serious rioting and civil disobedience."
It is interesting that the same mistake was later repeated in newspapers. An editorial in the Australian on September 12 said: "Melbourne’s demonstrators have followed the lead of those at WEF [sic] meetings in Seattle and Davos, Switzerland". A front-page story in the Sunday Age (10 September) referred to "violence at the WEF [sic] meeting in Seattle last year."
A leaked copy of Hill and Knowlton’s brief appeared on the internet early in September (on http://www.crosswinds.net/~leeked/hillandknowlton_s11.htm), and the mistake about the Seattle protest was pointed out on the website of the Melbourne Independent Media Centre. The story about the public relations brief was picked up by the Australian (6 September) and was confirmed by Hill and Knowlton but the Australian corrected
Hill and Knowlton’s error about the WEF and the WTO.
Hill and Knowlton were not the only organisation active in support of the WEF. Before and during the WEF meeting, daily newspapers published articles submitted by writers who are associated with two privately-funded think-tanks – the Institute of Public Affairs (in Melbourne) and the Centre for Independent Studies (in Sydney). These articles supported the WEF and the corporate "freemarket" position and opposed the views of the protesters. The IPA, for example, has a board of directors consisting of magnates from major corporations.
The crowds outside the Crown Casino on 11 September included some people who were hostile to the protests. For example, a conservative organization called “Free Trade Youth" announced on its website (http://www.counterprotest.net/fty) in early September that it "will be waging a counter-protest" at the WEF meeting.
Free Trade Youth has conservative and corporate connections. The group’s Victorian convenor is listed (on a Liberal Student Federation website) as a member of the Melbourne University Liberal Club; and, on the weekend before the WEF meeting, Free Trade youth held a meeting in Melbourne which was addressed by Michael Warby of the above-mentioned corporate think-tank, the Institute of Public Affairs (according to the IPA website).
On Wednesday 6 September, a story on the News Limited website reported that "opponents of S11, Free Trade Youth, are planning to hand out several thousand anti-protest leaflets at metropolitan train stations" on 11 September. The same paragraph later appeared in the Herald Sun’s printed edition but this version omitted the words "Free Trade Youth". The leaflets urged the public to "oppose the violence at the World Economic Forum", even though the WEF meeting (and the "violence") had not yet occurred.
If Free Trade Youth, or similar persons, mingled with the crowd outside the Crown Casino on September 11-13, it would be interesting to find out what form their "counter" protest took – and how they were so certain that acts of violence were about to be perpetrated.
The Crown Casino complex, as ABC TV reporter Giulia Baggio remarked, is designed normally to suck in as many people as possible through as many entrances as possible. However, by Monday morning 11 September the complex was surrounded by 3-metre concrete-and-wire barricades, reducing the number of entry-points to about a dozen or so gateways and car-park ramps. This resulted in a large number of police inside the barricades confronting a much larger number of civilians outside the barricades at a relatively small number of locations. This, in turn, made it easier for television footage to be obtained at any crowd concentration, from either inside or outside the barricades. And there was no shortage of TV footage because the TV stations evidently pooled or exchanged certain pieces of footage among themselves, so that no TV station "missed out".
The protesters had their own public stage and public-address system, erected with City Council permission on public land opposite the Casino’s east end. The crowd of civilians included teams of "non-violent picketers" who congregated tightly around each of the dozen gateways and a large number of spectators who stood and watched or wandered around from gateway to gateway. The spectators included passers-by (e.g., South Melbourne or Southbank residents walking to or from the city), as well as a number of people from further afield who were indifferent, or even hostile, to the protest.
More than two thousand police were on duty at the Casino – the largest police presence at a single event in Victoria’s history. The police manning the gateways were drawn from police stations throughout Victoria. Also on hand was the Force Response Unit, which was formed under the Kennett Government in 1993 to handle special operations including political dissent and demonstrations. On Monday the baton-wielding FRU police wore baseball-type caps but on Tuesday and Wednesday they changed to helmets and visors.
Nearby were the Mounted Police. It was the Force Response Unit and the Mounted Police, rather than the "ordinary" suburban and country police, who were to figure most prominently in the TV footage of September 11-13.
During the WEF meeting, a special media centre was located inside the casino complex. Police public relations officials provided briefings and tip-offs to journalists about the protests outside.
On Monday evening, all television channels showed scenes of police punching civilians or hitting them with batons and pushing them with police-horses. However, Monday’s footage included no scenes at all, on any channel, of civilians punching or hitting police.
The TV scripts talked about "violent protests" but the accompanying footage was inappropriate. For example, in the open seconds of the Channel Nine bulletin, during the theme music, the newsreader began reciting the headline: "Violence at the Crown complex. . ." – but this was illustrated by footage of a police officer (in a baseball-type cap) punching a civilian on the head. (This scene was shown again at greater length later in the bulletin, and this time the longer footage showed the same policeman hitting the same civilian not once but twice.) After the headlines, Nine’s script went on to say: "Up to 10,000 protesters fought with police on the barricades around the Crown Casino today". However, this "fighting" claim was not supported by Nine’s accompanying footage as the punches, blows and kicks depicted were all from the police, with none depicted as coming from the protesters.
Furthermore, Monday’s "noisy crowd" footage on all TV channels was mostly from about three or four of the compound’s dozen entry points, principally in Clarendon Street and to a lesser extent on a ramp from the Kingsway overpass to the Casino’s west-end car park (near the intersection of Hannah Street and Whiteman Street). Contrary to Channel Nine’s claim regarding "10,000 protesters fighting the police", each bit of footage (on all channels) showed a few hundred people at a time (not 10,000 at a time), near one or other of the dozen or so entrances. The TV footage neglected to show quiet scenes at the other entrances or at the other times.
Monday’s most sensational "crowd footage" was obtained around the car of West Australian premier Richard Court. Ignoring directions given to WEF delegates by the police, Mr Court’s car tried to barge through the dense crowd. The nearby TV cameras were quickly on the spot and Mr Court provided the "ugly scenes" story which the media needed.
The Premier Court footage showed people heckling Mr Court and showed flat tyres on his car. There was no footage of civilians punching anybody.
In Tuesday’s Australian, the main picture on page 1 showed a crowd of smiling people standing around Premier Court’s car, watching an Aboriginal man standing on the roof of the car. Standing beside the car in the TV footage and in the Australian’s photo were two police officers, who were calmly guarding Mr Court. The Aborigine, Ivan Wyatt-Ring, 29, from Western Australia, was protesting against the policies of pastoral and mining corporations and the West Australian Government on Aboriginal land rights and on the mandatory jailing of Aborigines. The Herald Sun, however, gave the impression that Mr Wyatt-Ring was merely engaging in hooligan-type behaviour rather than protesting
on significant national issues.
Regarding Premier Court’s tyres, the media showed some inconsistency, especially the Herald Sun. Access News on Channel 31 showed footage of someone clearly deflating one of the tyres by removing the valve. Likewise, a still-photo, to the same effect, appeared in the Herald Sun, with a caption saying that a protester "lets down the premier’s car tyre."
However, news stories in the Herald Sun, the Australian and Channel Nine said the tyres [plural] "were slashed". The Herald Sun’s news story, directly adjoining the photo of someone removing the tyre valve, stated: "They [the protesters] slashed the car’s tyres."
Neither the Herald Sun nor the Australian showed any picture of a slashed tyre. And on Channels Two and Seven and in the Age, there was no mention of slashed tyres at all.
The TV footage showed Mr Court sitting quietly inside his car, with the window closed, until the Force Response Unit batons cleared a path for him to leave. Mr Court was uninjured but not so the onlookers. The Age reported: "Officers punched and batoned protesters out of the way." All TV channels showed footage of "riot police" hitting people with batons and all channels also depicted various scenes of police-horses being charged into the crowd.
Although Monday’s footage showed no civilian punching or striking the police, there was evidence of a policeman being hit, inadvertently, by a colleague’s baton. This was in footage, taken by three freelance cameramen, David and Drew Wilson and Morgan Evans, which was shown on Channel Nine’s "Sunday" program on September 17. In this, several rows of police, with batons lashing out indiscriminately, were attacking a crowd, but a policeman in a rear row was striking out so enthusiastically that his baton landed on a colleague in front of him. Was the struck policeman included in the number of officers who were reported (by police public relations) as having suffered injuries "inflicted by the protesters"?
Despite Monday’s baton-attack footage (which would have been seen on that evening’s TV by a majority of Herald Sun readers), Tuesday’s Herald Sun reported soberly (on page 4): "A police spokeswoman later denied S11 allegations that police … had baton-charged protesters." This police statement, which is contradicted by all the TV footage (and even by other material in the Herald Sun) raises questions about the credibility of the public relations briefings given each day by the police. Evidently, police public relations officials made this "no baton-charge" claim during Monday afternoon, not realising that the claim was about to be negated a few hours later by the baton footage shown on the evening TV news.
Tuesday’s Age gave the Premier Court incident only one paragraph in its page 1 story, with much the same information repeated on page 8. The Herald Sun, however, ran the Premier Court story at much greater length on pages 1 and 2, with further mentions on pages 18 and 19.
The Premier Court incident was a relatively short portion of the day. Mr Court’s car arrived about 9.40AM (said the Age). The ABC-TV’s "Seven-Thirty Report" said the ensuring excitement surrounding Mr Court lasted "about half an hour" until police moved in. However, the Herald Sun increased this to "almost an hour". The Herald Sun’s stable mate, the Australian, bettered this, saying it was "more than an hour".
Mr Court suffered no physical injury from his hecklers. The Perth West Australian reported that, when asked whether he felt frightened, Mr Court said later: "It was more rugged than being in Melbourne after the Eagles have won a grand final over here."
The Age later (September 13) published a statement by deputy commissioner O’Loughlin saying that Premier Court and also Victorian Liberal Leader Denis Napthine had been "foolish" to take their own cars to the casino (instead of using the boats and helicopter that were available to delegates). The Herald Sun, however, omitted this criticism.
Tuesday’s West Australian quoted Mr Court as saying: “I’m not interested in exotic forms of transport. If I go to a convention I like to roll up at the front door.” The West Australian then quoted Green Senator Bob Brown as saying Mr Court had provoked protesters by trying to break the blockade.
On Wednesday, the West Australian gave a fuller account of the Court incident that is worth quoting at length:
Premier Richard Court ignored pleas for World Economic Forum delegates not to try to enter the summit alone, Victorian police claimed yesterday.
Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner (operations) Neil O’Loughlin said police had planned for all delegates to be taken by bus, helicopter or boat rather than chance their arm alone by car in the face of Monday’s
Mr Court became trapped in his car by S11 protesters on Monday when he and his driver tried to get through a blockade of protesters at the summit’s venue, Melbourne’s Crown Casino.
Mr O’Loughlin said Mr Court and Victorian Opposition Leader Denis Napthine, who also was trapped by protesters in his car during the demonstrations, appeared to ignore police orders.
“We had instructed that no vehicle was to go down there on their own,” Mr O’Loughlin said.
“We had a plan that all the delegates would go through the transport office of the World Economic Forum and all transport would be done in liaison with police.
“It was just unfortunate that some people chose, and it could have been anybody, to come down on their own.
“Mr Court probably chose to come down and perhaps thought he could get through and didn’t appreciate the number of protesters and where he had to go.”
It is significant that the West Australian was less eager to "beat up" the violence angle than the Melbourne Herald Sun was. The Melbourne media, especially the Herald Sun, had been predicting for months that the protests would "inevitably" be violent. The West Australian, not having emphasised such predictions, did not need to prove them to be true. And it may be significant that the West Australian is the only metropolitan daily not owned by the Murdoch or Fairfax corporations.
Among all the "violence" stories concerning Monday, one finds clues that it was not really a whole "day" at all. In a "live cross" during ABC-TV’s 7pm news, reporter Michael Magazanik said: "There has been little trouble this afternoon [as distinct from this morning]. Tonight the protesters are in party mode [footage of dancing and singing]." Despite this report of a largely quiet day, the ABC producers ended the Channel Two bulletin (during the closing theme music, just before the "Seven-Thirty Report") by re-showing footage of police assaulting civilians with batons and horses about the time of Premier Court’s appearance with, again, no scenes of any police being hit. This finale helped to reinforce the impression that it had been "a day of violence" and helped to set the scene for Tuesday’s Herald Sun.
In contrast with the Premier Court incident, an article by Elizabeth Wynhausen in the Australian described a separate encounter between police and protesters (near the Casino’s West End car park) which was resolved peacefully. Wynhausen wrote: "While the vivid television footage of demonstrators surrounding West Australian Premier Richard Court’s government car was the image of S11 that burned itself into the national consciousness, the peaceful resolution of the incident at the West End car park was at least as typical of the tenor of the day. In fact the TV focus on confrontation left out the atmosphere of much of the World Economic Forum blockade, a sort of carnival of the Left . . ."
The Age (page 1) referred to "the largely peaceful crowd" and said: "Despite a crowd estimated at 10,000, violence was isolated."
The West Australian said that, despite the Premier Court incident, Monday’s protest "was essentially a peaceful one". The paper went on: " At times it took on the atmosphere of a carnival – music, dancing, group hugs and bubble bath in the fountain at the casino’s main entrance."
However, the "largely peaceful" assessment in the Australian, the Age and the West Australian (as quoted in the preceding three paragraphs) did not appear in the Herald Sun.
At a public relations briefing on Monday afternoon (shown on all the TV channels), deputy commissioner Neil O’Loughlin said: "There has been minimal disruption to the conference." This statement, too, was omitted from the Herald Sun.
The true level of Monday’s "protester violence" can be measured quantitatively by the fact (reported by all TV channels and newspapers) that only two of the 10,000 protesters were arrested that day. These were charged on summons with assaulting police. This contrasts with a similar civil-disobedience protest held by Save Albert Park one morning in South Melbourne in 1995, when 102 people (out of a crowd of about 1,000) were arrested (for alleged "trespass" in a public park) and were removed in paddy-wagons to police stations; later, however, a magistrate dismissed the Albert Park charges.
In contrast to the evidence presented in all other media outlets, the Herald Sun was the odd one out. The Herald Sun’s page 1 on Tuesday morning had a one-word banner headline: SHAMEFUL. This story began: "Ugly protests forced Crown Casino to shut last night as the World Economic Forum was held hostage to violence." The word SHAMEFUL seems to be attached not only to the protests but also to the non-availability of the gambling facilities. The rest of this story continued the theme of "violent protests".
This Herald Sun story differed from all other media outlets in estimating the size of Monday’s crowd. The TV channels, the Age and the Australian (as well as the protest organisers) were unanimous in estimating Monday’s crowd at about 10,000, without quibbling, but the Herald Sun reduced this figure drastically. The Herald Sun said: "Police estimated the protest crowd at 1500 but S11 organisers reckoned 6000 to 10,000 protesters were present." The Herald Sun did not identify any "organiser" who allegedly gave the 6000 figure. The Herald Sun’s figure of 1500 protesters (compared with the total of 2000 police who were rostered at the WEF in extended shifts) would have meant that there were as many police there as protesters, although Monday’s TV footage clearly indicated that the police everywhere were vastly outnumbered.
Across pages 2 and 3, the Herald Sun had another banner headline: Mob rule causes chaos. The accompanying story referred to "an ugly outbreak of violence", "a wave of vandalism", "several ugly episodes" and "violence flaring".
On Page 3, the Herald Sun published a photo, showing several young protesters wearing scarves across their mouths [i.e., these protesters were presented as being unidentifiable and unaccountable] and, in the same photo, a friendly-looking police officer who, unlike many of his colleagues, happened to be wearing his name tag [i.e., he was identifiable and accountable]. This photo is the opposite of reality. In fact, the TV footage shows hardly any protesters wearing scarves or masks, excepting for one group who evidently adopted this dress style to make some sort of a political point. In the "crowd scenes" footage around Premier Court’s car, there was apparently only one person wearing a scarf or mask. And Monday’s TV footage showed many police not wearing the name tags that they are required to wear, by police regulations, on their chests.
According to the West Australian, the scarves and bandanas could also serve as makeshift gas-masks if, as the Melbourne media expected, the police might use capsicum spray or tear gas. In fact, the protesters’ website (http://www.s11.org) which is still available, had a page headed "Protesting Tips" in which it advised protesters, as a defence against capsicum spray, to "use a vinegar-soaked bandana over the mouth/nose". However, a Herald Sun reader could be excused assuming that the scarves were proof of criminality.
Tuesday’s Age quoted deputy commissioner O’Loughlin as saying it was "against police procedure for officers to remove their identity badges, as many had done when they formed lines against the protesters". In the Age (and also on TV), Mr O’Loughlin said on Monday afternoon: "I’ll be giving instructions that they’re to make sure that they wear their badges." The Herald Sun, however, suppressed any mention of the name tags. And Mr O’Loughlin’s promise about all police wearing their name tags in future was not kept on Tuesday or Wednesday.
The main item on the Herald Sun’s page 5, by John Hamilton, continued the attack on the protesters. It referred to "clowns", "bozos", "an ill-assorted rabble", "thugs", "biff and bovver boys", "Loonyville", "human ferals", "unwashed dreadlocks" and "a crazy circus".
Hamilton’s article touched briefly on the issue of global corporations but he equated this, incorrectly, with "the kind of globalisation that got the demonstrators together by e-mail and fitted out many of them yesterday with designer shoes, clothes and backpacks and the expensive video, film and digital cameras they were using to take pictures of themselves." Hamilton was obscuring the distinction between "corporations" and "technology" and he thus misrepresented the real, stated issue of the protests – the issue of non-elected, unaccountable global corporations dictating the domestic policies of sovereign nations.
On page 18, a Herald Sun editorial repeated the various allegations about "protester violence" from the earlier pages, except that it omitted the "slashing" of Premier Court’s tyres; in this article, the tyres were back to being merely "let down". Beside the editorial was an article contributed by Des Moore, who was described as the director of the pro- corporate "Institute for Private Enterprise, Melbourne," attacking the protesters and defending "free" market policies. There was a third article on this page, about the Olympic Games, but there was no article giving an alternative to Des Moore’s pro-corporations view.
On page 19, a full-page article by journalist Andrew Bolt re-iterated many of the themes from previous pages. Bolt, who for weeks had been insisting that the protesters would be violent, concluded: "And what do these groups want? Only a revolution to impose communism – the totalitarian credo which has caused misery wherever it has been tried, and has led to the deaths of 100 million poor souls." Thus, Bolt re-inforced the image of violent protesters, implicating them this time in the deaths of 100 million people.
The news media obtained much of their information about the protests through the WEF management, police public relations and other official sources. For example, it is interesting to examine a news story which the Metropolitan Ambulance Service "broke" on radio on Monday morning. I have since re-checked with ambulance commander Paul Holman and he told me how this story originated. He said the MAS had established an ambulance centre inside the Casino to cater for Casino staff, WEF delegates, police and the public; this meant that there were no ambulance resources outside the barricades – a mistake which the MAS will correct on future occasions. As the street congestion increased on Monday morning, the MAS had difficulty getting ambulances and paramedics in and out of the casino and through the crowd. About 9.30am a paramedic took an ambulance to a patient (a member of the public, according to Mr Holman) in Clarendon Street. The paramedic was "roughed up" in the crush; furthermore, someone in the crowd stole the keys of his ambulance. Therefore, as a public relations tactic, Mr Holman phoned talk-radio hosts, including 3AW’s Neil Mitchell and ABC Radio’s John Faine, and related this incident "on air", so as to put pressure on the protest marshals at the various gateways to ensure better access for the MAS. The protest marshals readily agreed and this solved the access problem. As for the missing keys, Mr Holman told me that another set of keys was readily available and the ambulance went on its way.
Meanwhile, TV news had also obtained footage of MAS spokesman Paul Holman’s statement and this was shown in the evening bulletins, even though the need for the MAS public relations tactic was now less urgent. On Tuesday neither the Age nor the Australian bothered to mention the ambulance story but it became a major point on the Herald Sun front page. The seventh paragraph said: "Protesters also attempted to disrupt paramedics by stealing the keys of an ambulance." The same information was repeated, in a longer form, on page 3; this stated that "the paramedic had been called by protesters to treat somebody at the scene when he was pushed and shoved by the surge of people." A few pages later, in the paper’s editorial, the incident had escalated. The injured person suddenly became a police officer and the "surge of people" became a cowardly assault. The editorial on page 18 said:
"Most Victorians will be appalled by the violence and un-Australian behaviour at the opening of the World Economic Forum’s Asia-Pacific summit in Melbourne. Law-abiding citizens will not forgive the cowards
who attacked a paramedic who was treating an injured policeman. Nor will they condone the behaviour of those who stole the keys to a waiting ambulance . . ."
The paper’s Andrew Bolt continued this theme in his article on page 19:
"So this is what a ‘non-violent protest . . . looks like. It means sending two police to hospital. It means roughing up a paramedic who tries to help one [i.e., a policeman], and stealing the keys to his ambulance."
Thus, a public relations release from the ambulance service took on a life of its own in the Herald Sun, inflaming public opinion against the "cowardly" protesters and generating a climate for punitive action against protesters – any protesters.
The punitive action took the form of several baton-charges by the Force Response Unit on Tuesday, principally at 7am and 7.30pm.
Before dawn on Tuesday, protesters gradually began assembling again at a few of the main gateways, although other gateways were still deserted. About 7am, before dawn, the baton-wielding Force Response Unit suddenly ran out of the casino and across a paved area to a vehicle gateway in Queensbridge Street at the intersection of Whiteman Street. They leapt over a plastic traffic-barrier at the gateway and launched themselves upon a group of 50 civilians (including two members of the New Zealand Parliament). According to Monash University criminal justice lecturer David Baker (Age, 16 September), this was the first time police had used full riot-gear – that is, not just batons but also helmets and visors – against unarmed citizens at a political demonstration in Melbourne.
The TV footage showed the protesters sitting passively on the ground, arms linked, with their backs to the police, because (as they told the media later) they did not wish to be accused of abusing or assaulting the police. Reports said the protesters were quietly chanting or singing. The TV footage showed the FRU police suddenly appearing in the gateway, then trampling over the seated crowd from behind, kicking and punching bodies, heads and faces. Channel Two showed an FRU sergeant (with his name tag removed) striking New Zealand parliamentarian Sue Bradford on the head with his knee as he clambered over her. Meanwhile, mounted police appeared on the roadway in front of the protesters, hemming them in, thwarting any escape from the attack. Channel Nine’s reporter said: "Those in the path of the baton-wielding force had nowhere to run."
The TV footage, shown on that evening’s TV news bulletins, included:
POLICE, with batons raised, stomping over the passively seated civilians, with police boots striking people’s heads and shoulders;
POLICE knocking people to the ground;
POLICE punching and kicking people;
POLICE dragging people along the ground by the hair or dreadlocks instead of (say) by the collar;
POLICE smashing a news photographer’s camera;
POLICE hitting people with batons.
On Channel Nine’s 6pm bulletin, a policeman raised his baton high above his head and then swung it down towards the head or shoulder of a standing civilian. The resulting "crack" noise of the impact is heard on the sound track. Hitting someone in this manner is contrary to directions given by the suppliers of police batons in the United States (according to the suppliers’ internet site, http://www.policebatons.com/mptc/uof3.html).
Channel Nine showed an FRU man ramming the end of his baton at a photographer’s chest, knocking the man and his camera to the ground.
The TV channels were unable to show a single scene of any civilian hitting a police officer. Channel Two said eleven protesters were taken to hospital and another fifty required first-aid at the scene.
The TV footage showed that, despite the promise by deputy commissioner O’Loughlin, many police had again removed their name tags. Tuesday’s footage showed whole squads of police, lined up in formation, with their name tags removed.
It is not clear, from media reports, why the Force Response Unit used full riot-gear to remove 50 non-rioting people from a gateway. Was it so that the helmets and visors would make the individual FRU members unrecognisable and unaccountable? Was it to justify the purchase of this equipment? Was it to justify the existence of the FRU? Was it to boost the morale of the police generally? Was it to impress the Herald Sun? Was it to intimidate other WEF protesters and future political dissenters?
At a police public relations briefing on Tuesday, deputy commissioner O’Loughlin displayed two bolts and one screw which, he claimed, had been thrown at police (Channel Nine 6pm news). Wednesday’s Age did not publish these claims about missiles but the Herald Sun went further than Channel Nine; this paper said (page 3) that, as well as screws [plural] and bolts, protesters threw rocks, ball-bearing, nails and marbles on Tuesday and they also "poured urine over police". Two pages later (page 5) a different article, by the Herald Sun’s John Hamilton, repeated the story about urine, ball bearings, nails and glass. Wednesday’s Australian, however, said these missiles were thrown "on Monday". The Australian, like the Age, did not bother to use the "urine" story.
Neither the police nor the Herald Sun said that the alleged missile-throwing occurred at the scene of Tuesday’s 7am baton-attack. If the throwing had occurred on the Monday (as the Australian claimed), this would mean that the FRU’s 7am baton-attack was intended as revenge for misdemeanours that had been committed by someone else, not the 50 people who were attacked. On the other hand, if the throwing occurred later on Tuesday (and possibly at different parts of the barricades), this would mean that the morning baton-attack was not in response to the missile-throwing. If there were missiles, could they have been in response to Monday’s (or Tuesday’s) baton charges? That is, did Premier Richard Court and the Force Response Unit police exacerbate the climate of confrontation and revenge? Did violence beget violence?
The Herald Sun did not cite the source of its claims about Tuesday’s (or was it Monday’s?) missiles. However, the Herald Sun itself had already foreshadowed the missile stories two weeks before the forum. On 28 August, an article by the Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt referred to previous political demonstrations in Melbourne where "police were hit and their horses stabbed and tripped" and where "police said they had urine balloons thrown at them". Likewise, in an article attacking the protesters in the Sydney Morning Herald on August 28, conservative commentator Imre Salusinszky conjectured that protesters “may choose to spray the police with their own urine, as their comrades did in Seattle last November”. In another article on 31 August, Bolt said that if marbles are rolled in large quantities, the police horses are unable to walk. Was Andrew Bolt giving a helpful suggestion to his readers?
The Herald Sun continually asserted from June to September that the convenors of the WEF protest must take responsibility for the actions of every individual member of the public who turned up to the event, including any counter-protesters. On the basis of this logic, therefore, if marbles and urine were thrown on September 11-13 (as foreshadowed in the Herald Sun), should the Herald Sun take responsibility for the actions of its readers?
By late Tuesday afternoon, many of the protesters had left for the day. In a "live cross" during Channel Nine’s 6pm bulletin, a reporter was shown saying: "There are bands playing. It has taken on something of a party atmosphere."
By 6pm, many of the protesters were drifting away, leaving some of the dozen entrances undermanned or deserted. By 7.30pm, all five television channels had shown footage of the morning baton attack.
After 7.30pm, when darkness had descended (and after more protesters had left), the Force Response Unit ran from the casino and carried out another baton-charge against a group of about 100 people at the same gateway as the 7am attack. The FRU members, again wearing helmets and visors, leapt over the plastic barriers in the gateway and landed among the crowd.
Footage from this attack was shown on Tuesday’s late-night bulletins (10.30pm or later) and again on Wednesday evening. This footage was similar to the 7am attack (except that the evening protesters decided, for safety reasons, not to sit, so that they could escape any police violence). Again, with the help of the mounted police, the protesters were surrounded and found it difficult to escape the attack.
The footage showed (and all media outlets agreed) that these police actions were even more ferocious and frenzied than the morning actions had been. Again, most of the attacking police had removed their name tags.
The footage again showed:
POLICE striking civilians on the head and body with batons;
POLICE punching and kicking people;
POLICE knocking people to the ground and kicking them on the ground;
POLICE attacking news photographers and smashing their cameras.
The content of the Tuesday evening footage was summed up later by the Australian (14 September): "Video of the incident shows police striking people repeatedly on the head from above and other reports had police holding people on the ground and hitting them". The paper said that a total of 300 police (FRU police, mounted police and others) took part in the operation to remove about 100 protesters. All TV channels showed footage of FRU police leaning over the 3-metre fencing and aiming their batons at civilians standing below them on the other side. The civilians were holding up their arms in a vain attempt to make the police stop the blows.
In Channel Ten’s footage (broadcast in Wednesday’s 5pm bulletin), an FRU man stood in the gateway, reversed his baton, held it aloft with two hands like an axe and repeatedly lashed at the trapped civilians with the baton’s protruding handle.
Police had waited for darkness before launching the evening baton-charge. When TV camera crews turned on their lights for filming, a police officer is heard on one crew’s soundtrack ordering them to "turn those lights off". The police targeted people who were holding cameras.
SBS-TV’s script reported: "Police attacked indiscriminately. TV crews appear to have been targeted. SBS cameraman Luke Roche was attacked [by police] from behind [by batons]."
Roche’s footage showed the police advancing on him, then threatening him, before assaulting him, as his camera fell to the ground, still filming.
Channel Seven News reported: "Several officers turned on a Seven News camera crew."
And a Reuters cameraman from Sydney, Simon Mossman, was bashed by police.
A media statement from the journalists’ union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, says a number of media professionals covering the baton-charges on September 12 were outraged over "Victoria Police allegedly attacking them indiscriminately and without warning as they attempted to film, report or record the event" [i.e., the baton-charges]. The MEAA has urged these media members to report their experiences to the MEAA’s lawyers, Slater and Gordon, with a view to taking civil action against the Victoria Police.
The assaults on the media were reported in Wednesday’s Age, page 7. The paper said that one of its photographers was hit with a police baton and another was picked up by an officer and thrown to the ground, breaking some of his equipment.
The Age added: "Earlier in the day [Tuesday], Herald Sun photographer Trevor Pinder reported that he had camera gear smashed by a uniformed policeman when he tried to take a picture of a group of plain-clothes men – either security or police – dragging a young woman by the hair inside the barricades, where, he said, she and others were roughed up."
However, not a word about this Herald Sun photographer (or any other media casualties) appeared in Wednesday morning’s edition of the Herald Sun. Herald Sun readers, as usual, were left with an over-all impression about "violent protesters", not violent police.
In Wednesday morning’s Herald Sun, the only mention of news media being assaulted was in a report by John Hamilton – and he claimed these attacks were made by protesters, not police. Hamilton wrote: "Among the [protesters’] targets yesterday was the media – now accused [by the protesters] of telling lies because it is exposing the truth. Reporters, photographers and cameramen were abused and jostled [by the protesters]." Unfortunately for Hamilton and the Herald Sun, Tuesday’s late-night TV footage showed the opposite of what he was asserting.
Media outlets agreed that about 20 protesters were injured in the evening baton charge, including 13 who were taken to hospital. The Herald Sun said only eleven were hospitalised.
When the Tuesday evening baton charge was reported on Channel Two on Wednesday, reporter Michael Magazanik said: "Ambulance officers say none of the police required treatment."
Various writers have pointed out that Victoria Police regulations restrict officers to using only "reasonable" (that is, minimum) force to make an arrest or to prevent a crime. Yet, media reports indicate that no arrests were made during Tuesday’s baton attacks. The TV footage gives the impression that the baton assaults were intended as a kind of punishment, instead of an attempt to make arrests.
Neither the Age nor the Australian mentioned any Tuesday arrests but the Herald Sun mentions two arrests; these arrests were apparently made at times and places other than during the baton attacks. This evidently brought the number of alleged lawbreakers after two days of "violence" to four. So Tuesday’s events are best measured up not by that day’s two arrests but by the number of protesters injured by police – seventy.
In statements made to the media on Tuesday and repeated on Wednesday and Thursday, Victorian Premier Steve Bracks defended the baton-attacks. He repeatedly praised the police for doing "an outstanding job". Asked about the injured civilians, he said they "deserved everything they got".
A Labor member of Federal Parliament, Harry Quick (MHR for Franklin, Tasmania), later criticised Premier Bracks for supporting police baton-assaults on unarmed citizens. Mr Quick said in an adjournment debate in the House of Representatives on October 5:
"Bracks praised police for an ‘absolutely outstanding’ job on 12 September. What part did he find outstanding? The unannounced baton charge? The failure of police to wear identification? The inability of protestors to identify police and hold them accountable for their actions? The response to alleged individual acts of violence by protestors with violence against the demonstration as a whole?"
Mr Quick said the Victoria Police had acted unlawfully. He said that the role of the police force "in our society" is primarily to bring people before the courts so they can be judged and punished. Police, he said, have no right to dish out punishment themselves.
Tuesday’s baton-attacks followed high-level talks involving the police command, the WEF and the Victorian Government. On TV news, Trade Hall Council secretary Leigh Hubbard claimed that the WEF had threatened, on Monday evening, to cancel the remaining two days of the Forum unless the government and police guaranteed that all delegates could get through the barricades. Wednesday’s Australian reported: "Premier Bracks authorised the crackdown after protesters kept up to 200 delegates out of the conference on Monday." A WEF spokesman denied that there had been a cancellation threat but Age political reporter Mark Forbes later wrote (27 October): "The government was desperate for the forum to proceed on the Tuesday, with the organisers threatening to cancel".
In an article on September 25, the Sun Herald’s Andrew Bolt referred to Premier Steve Bracks’ image as a popular politician. Bolt mentioned a meeting (on the Monday evening) between Mr Bracks and police Chief Commissioner Neil Comrie, adding: "Whatever they discussed, Mr Comrie then told 1000 of his officers it was no more Mr Nice Guy . . . Over the next two days we saw the result."
In media interviews on September 13-15, Chief Commissioner Comrie claimed that the protests ended in a victory for the police. Launching a Victoria Police recruiting drive two weeks later, he said the graphic scenes at the protests had been a "morale boost" for Victorian police and had helped promote policing (the Australian, 28 September).
Dr Jude McCulloch, lecturer in Police Studies at Deakin University, said (ABC Radio "Law Report") that police normally exercise restraint in using violence against unarmed citizens because such violence can result in the Victoria Police being sued for damages; and under the previous (Kennett) Government, she said, these payments had to come out of the Victoria Police budget. She said that Premier Bracks’s action in approving the tougher tactics removed the restraint and encouraged the police command to assume that any compensation payments for injured citizens will be paid by the State Government.
At mid-day on Wednesday, thousands of protesters left the casino precinct and marched through Melbourne’s central business district as the climax of their three-day demonstration. A lengthy Australian Associated Press story, timed at 2.54pm and posted on the News Ltd website, said: "There were no incidents in the peaceful march." The next day’s Herald Sun used much the same material as the AAP story but omitted the information that "there were no incidents in the peaceful march." Instead, the Herald Sun reported the march in a more sinister tone, saying that protesters "threatened to ransack the Melbourne’s city centre" and they "marched through the city threatening damage".
AAP’s 2.54pm story, containing quotes from deputy commissioner O’Loughlin, included some significant information about missiles. It said: "A bag of marbles was taken off a protester this morning." (It would be interesting to find out whether this person had obtained the marbles idea from reading Andrew Bolt’s Herald Sun article on August 31.)
This AAP story affirms that these marbles were confiscated, in a bag, not thrown. However, for the benefit of the evening TV news, the marbles were removed from the bag so that they could be displayed in a policeman’s hands – eleven marbles in one hand and three nuts and a screw in another hand (Channel Ten). Thus, viewers were left with the impression that the marbles were thrown.
Thursday’s Herald Sun also reported that the marbles had been thrown and omitted the information about the marbles being confiscated in a bag. The Herald Sun and the TV stations need to explain what happened to the 2.54pm AAP story about the marbles being confiscated and in a bag, rather than thrown.
At none of these public relations briefings did the police produce video footage of any missiles actually being thrown at police. The police had video cameras operating at the major trouble spots, and there were video or closed-circuit television cameras being operated manually from the top of the Crown complex, looking down upon the crowd. At least one of these cameras ought to have obtained footage of any missiles being thrown. The claims about missiles would have been strengthened if supported by video footage.
At international cricket matches at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, it is common for missiles to be thrown on to the ground, endangering players. However, the police do not conduct baton attacks on MCG spectators. Nor do they punish spectators in one stand for a projectile thrown by a different spectator in another stand. Instead, the police spot the offence through closed-circuit television cameras and then direct some officers to the offenders, who are then liable to be ejected from the MCG or perhaps charged.
On Channel Nine on Wednesday, Police Chief Commissioner Neil Comrie spoke about "mindless violence" on the part of the WEF protesters, but unfortunately the accompanying footage depicted a senior constable (with his name tag removed) dragging a civilian along by the hair. This undermined the credibility of Mr Comrie’s claim.
The police public relations spokesmen and the Herald Sun failed to consider this question: if the 15 missiles displayed on TV (11 marbles, three metal nuts and one screw) were indeed thrown (perhaps by 15 people who were not necessarily members of the blockades), did this justify injuring 70 people in Tuesday’s baton attacks, including 24 people who were hospitalised?
At last, on Wednesday’s Channel Nine 6.00pm news, I found footage of one assault committed on a police officer by a protester. This bulletin showed a police officer with a dollop of saliva or phlegm sliding down his face; he had apparently been spat upon by someone in the crowd. However, this officer was not blameless himself, for he had removed his name tag, in contravention of police regulations.
Late on Wednesday, protest organisers and their lawyers held a media conference, accompanied by representatives from the Trades Hall Council and the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties (Liberty Victoria). At this conference it was announced that complaints had been lodged with the State Ombudsman about Tuesday’s baton attacks and about police removing name tags. These complaints were reported on all TV news bulletins on Wednesday evening, with all channels showing footage from the baton attacks, including
scenes of people being struck indiscriminately on the head and face. Channel Ten showed footage of a whole row of police officers, ready for action, with their name tags removed. Channel Ten reported: "Many police breached regulations by not wearing name tags." Similar footage and comments, about name tags being removed, was shown on other TV channels.
The Wednesday call for an Ombudsman inquiry was the main item in Thursday’s Age (page 1) and received a few paragraphs in the Australian (page 2). However, not a word about this appeared in the Herald Sun. Instead, the main angle in Thursday’s Herald Sun was that "Victorian taxpayers and businesses face a bill of more than $20 million" for the three-day protest. This included $10 million lost by the Crown Casino because it was closed to the public.
In fact, the loss of business at Crown and in other businesses on September 11-13 was largely the result of the expectation of violence, which had been "talked up" in the preceding months by the media, especially the Herald Sun. On ABC-TV evening news on September 6, reporter Natasha Simpson reported that "Crown expects to lose" several million dollars over the three-day Forum; some high-rollers, she said, were staying away from Crown because of the bad publicity about anticipated "violence". Ironically, much of the expectation of "violence" hysteria had been generated by Channel Nine, whose owner, Kerry Packer, is the owner of the Casino. Mr Packer’s own TV channel was hurting his casino.
In Thursday’s Herald Sun, Andrew Bolt wrote yet again about protesters pelting police with "rocks, rubbish, ball bearings and urine."
Bags of "urine" had become a constant theme in the Herald Sun, although apparently no chemical analysis was conducted by anybody to establish that this substance really was urine and not, say, just vinegar. As noted above, the protesters’ website recommended that protesters use "a vinegar-soaked bandana over the mouth/nose" as a defence against capsicum spray." For the Herald Sun, urine makes a better story than vinegar.
Andrew Bolt also stated that protesters "punched" police; this "punching" claim that had previously not been stated so explicitly in the various media outlets, although viewers and readers might have assumed such punches after hearing or reading about so much "protester violence".
About 6pm on Wednesday, as the remaining protesters were walking to the Yarra River bank for a post-protest party, an unmarked stationary police car suddenly moved forward and barged into a group of people outside the casino, injuring a woman. The car (registration number QKE 617), carrying four plainclothes police, then failed to stop. An AAP story (in the Age) said the incident marred an "otherwise peaceful final day" of the protest, but the concept of peacefulness did not appear in the Herald Sun.
The Herald Sun claimed on Friday: "The alleged hit-and-run happened as protesters swarmed around the car hitting and kicking it." However, the paper’s claims are contradicted by the Wilson/Evans freelance footage which was shown on Channel Nine’s "Sunday" program on September 16. This shows: that the protesters were not physically threatening the police officers in the car while it was stationary; that the police car suddenly took off and barged into the crowd; that the woman’s body became jammed under the front of the car; that nobody hit the car until after the woman became jammed; and that the hits on the car roof were clearly intended to get the driver to stop, so as to prevent the car from causing any more harm to the woman.
Claims of protester violence are weakened by the arrest count. At the end of the three days, said AAP, only 12 protesters had been arrested, all on minor charges, and none were processed through the court system. This is less than the number who would normally have been arrested in central Melbourne in three days. The low number of persons arrested or charged is in stark contrast with the high numbers of persons injured by police.
On Friday 15 September, the Age and the Australian again reported on the complaints about police baton-attacks and confirmed that the previously-foreshadowed Ombudsman’s inquiry would begin immediately. The Herald Sun, at last, was forced to mention the baton complaints and the Ombudsman – long after all the other media outlets. However, the Herald Sun put its own spin on the story, by emphasising the cost of the inquiry. "Taxpayers", the Herald Sun’s item began, "will foot a hefty bill for an inquiry into claims of police brutality from this week’s World Economic Forum." The Herald Sun also chose the Ombudsman’s inquiry as the topic for the paper’s daily opinion poll but the paper put its own spin on the question. It invited readers to phone in to vote on this question: "Should taxpayers’ money be spent on an inquiry into police behaviour during the S11 protest?"
Friday’s Age reported complaints, from the Media Arts and Entertainment union, that "several Age, Herald Sun and Sydney Morning Herald photographers were injured and had equipment damaged" in Tuesday evening’s baton-attack. However, Friday’s Herald Sun continued to suppress the information about its own photographers being attacked by police. Instead, the Herald Sun re-iterated its story about the protesters using "disgusting and violent tactics, including attacking cars, spraying urine on officers, spitting and hurling rocks, marbles, ball bearings, metal nuts and glass".
On Saturday, September 16, the Herald Sun continued to engage in spin-doctoring with two articles by reporter Paul Anderson on page 22. The first, headed "Police protest toll", was a story about the brave police who were injured at the WEF protests. The story, evidently prepared with co-operation from police public relations, is accompanied by a picture of police Chief Commissioner Comrie "examining a senior constable’s injuries". The story also features Sergeant Mark Reid, of the Force Response Unit, who, as it happens, figured prominently in the TV footage of the baton charges on Monday and Tuesday.
By contrast, Anderson’s second article (headed "Ratbag militants") was about the "cowardly" protesters. It refers to protesters "trying to rip down fences while spitting on police at point-blank range". Anderson does not explain how anyone could do both those things simultaneously.
Anderson continued in the same vein:
"They didn’t mind punching and kicking the men and women in blue. . .
"And, in an ultimate insult, they burned the Australian flag . . .
"The ratbag army of red militants, fiery ferals and clueless snipers asked for any war they may have received at the hands of a dedicated police contingent this week."
On 2 October the Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt had another story about the Force Response Unit’s Sergeant Mark Reid. Bolt claimed that, when the FRU members rushed to the barricades in the Tuesday evening baton attack, Reid’s task was to rescue a man in the crowd carrying "a curly-haired boy about two years old". While doing this, claimed Bolt, the gallant sergeant fell to the ground, was kicked in the head and body by protesters and "suffered a splitting headache". Bolt did not explain why the protective helmet did not prevent the splitting headache. Nor did he bother to disclose the fate of the curly-haired boy.
Bolt’s story was further embellished by a member of the Federal Parliament, Stewart McArthur (Liberal, Corangamite, Victoria). In a speech in the House on 9 October, Mr McArthur claimed that the aim of the protesters was to "invade the conference". He then said: "Herald Sun journalist Andrew Bolt has written a human account of a police sergeant beaten by protesters in his battle to protect a two-year-old child caught in a stampeding crowd."
Mr McArthur was referring to the incident in which FRU police rushed from the casino to surround the stationary protesters. Thus, the story of the baton attack evolved from stampeding police to stampeding protesters. Mr McArthur had learned the art of journalistic "beat ups".
For three months before the World Economic Forum meeting, the corporate media had taken on a role as counter-protesters. This was especially true of the Herald Sun; this paper’s stories looked almost as though they had been cut and pasted from handouts issued by the World Economic Forum, the public relations firm Hill and Knowlton, the Victoria Police media office or pro-corporate think-tanks such as the Institute of Public Affairs.
The media’s portraying of the protesters during those three months as violent created a climate of impending conflict. The media failed to give much coverage to conferences and public meetings, which the protesters held on September 7-10 to discuss the issues of global corporatisation and economic rationalism. This news blackout intensified the focus on conflict and violence.
Although the Age, the Australian and ABC radio featured some discussion about global corporatisation in early September, the Herald Sun and radio 3AW mostly ignored this aspect, instead portraying the protests purely as an outbreak of criminal violence and traffic snarls.
The media, especially the Herald Sun and 3AW, tried to frighten "respectable" people from supporting the protests. Therefore, it would not be surprising if some Herald Sun readers and 3AW listeners at the Casino precinct on September 11-13 were there primarily to "see violence", rather than to facilitate a "non-violent demonstration". West Australian Premier Richard Court and Victorian Opposition Leader Denis Napthine arrived at the venue knowing that they would have a confrontation with the protesters. Evidently, other counter-protesters were also among the crowd.
The Victorian police force had already been criticised by conservative politicians in April 1998 for "failing to crack down" on trade unionists and civil rights protesters in the maritime industrial dispute revolving around the Patrick stevedoring company. It appears that late on Monday 11 September 2000, Premier Steve Bracks authorised the police command to crack down on the WEF protesters. Accordingly the Force Response Unit was unleashed upon the first few people who showed up just before dawn the next morning.
For all these reasons, the media’s prophecy of violence became self-fulfilling.
After analysing all the stories and TV footage of September 11-13, I find that the media’s written claims about assaults committed by citizens were, in fact, not supported by (and were, in some cases, contradicted by) the TV footage. I am not saying that no member of the public committed any violence around the Crown Casino during the three days, especially in view of the Herald Sun floating the idea of taking along marbles and urine. My point is that, during the three days, the television coverage showed footage of punches and beatings being committed by police and none being committed by civilians.
Of all the news outlets, the Herald Sun was the most "far out" in its verbal assertions when compared with the visual evidence. The Herald Sun’s stories consisted of a series of "beat ups".
The protesters were noisy, disruptive and obstructive, yet they were overwhelmingly peaceful. The protests did not constitute a riot and one must question whether the protests justified such violent intervention by the baton-wielding "riot police", the Force Response Unit.
No doubt, many of the "ordinary" police manning the gateways tried to behave with a reasonable degree of professionalism while acting under orders. The violence at the Crown Casino came overwhelmingly from the free-ranging Force Response Unit, anonymous and unaccountable in their helmets and mostly with their name tags removed. Judging by the TV footage, each of the baton-attacks of Tuesday 12 September looks like a riot by the Force Response Unit, aided by the mounted police and others, not a riot by civilians.SOURCES: These are indicated within the text.
© Copyright Bernard Barrett 2000
Reprinted with Permission