Direct Action Against Journalism

Although the term may sound hip, laced with a dose of the radical chic, there is no immediate reason for thinking that "direct action" is either intrinsically democratic or progressive, even where it does seek to go under the banner of direct democracy.  Janus faced, it can look either way, as easily tending towards the fascistic as the democratic. It can readily subvert representative forms of democracy without being democratically constituted itself. What makes action democratic or anti-democratic is the extent to which it is democratically guided. No need for the type of complex political formulae devised by Samuel Edward Finer to work that much out.

An incidence of direct but hardly democratic action came to the fore in Drogheda recently where there were reports of:

rowdy scenes in the council chamber of the Borough District of Drogheda this evening as Councillors trying to conduct their monthly meeting were continually interrupted by a group of six or seven protestors in the public gallery.

There is a tendency by those within polite society who are intellectually and emotionally embedded in a rule of law perspective, regardless of the ethics of the law,  to look on aghast when their comfort zone has been penetrated, viewing it as unbecoming behaviour from enemies of democracy

Despite their protestations, elected representative do a pretty thorough job of disrupting people’s lives outside of the debating chambers so that the rich and the bankers may continue to have a quiet, prosperous and very profitable life.  As Charlotte Church retorted to one of her Tory critics, outraged that she protested on the streets of Cardiff:

Perhaps he thinks I should get back to the ironing and stop babbling on about air-headed notions such as protecting the NHS (a system that he himself has been most mobile in attacking), fighting for a fairer society (a concept that entirely eludes his party), and championing the plight of those in society who are less privileged than me. Perhaps he wants to quiet me because I threaten his status as a wealthy, privately educated, white male.

Although there might be little need to wax empathy for elected reps in their
discomfort, the people who elected them merit something different. Representative democracy while considerably more mediated than direct democracy is democratic nonetheless, not because of the wafflers in chambers but because of the people who cast their vote to place them there. There is sufficient material within Marxist literature outside of the authoritarian vanguard school to remind us of the dangers of dispensing with representative democracy in favour of its more direct version alone.

Direct democracy, by which I mean direct democracy in the soviet sense only, has always and everywhere been accompanied by the suppression of the plurality of parties, and then the suppression of political and formal liberties.

In the Drogheda case the people in the council chamber have a greater democratic endorsement to conduct their affairs than others have for disrupting them during the course of council business.

A more sinister dimension to the Drogheda event than the noisy in-your-face upfront protest is the menacing activity that came in the wake of the night's events. No matter what position is adopted toward the disruption, or the justification that might be made on its behalf, it seems vital that wherever politics are being played out, the media should be able to report on it. The attempt to suppress the reporting of local Drogheda Life editor, Andy Spearman, is sinister and is a direct action against democracy rather than a direct assertion of it.

The editor felt so disconcerted by the commination he was subjected to that he postponed an article, claiming it was the first time he had "capitulated" in forty years. The pulled report seemed standard local newspaper fare, no more controversial than local court reporting: certainly nothing for any body to get upset over. There is no right to be protected from opinion that offends and every right for opinion to offend. According to Andy Spearman:

I withdrew the article not because it was untrue, defamatory or libellous, but because I began receiving abusive phone calls from so-called activists only one of whom would give me their name ... During the course of the day I received 17 calls ranging in ferocity from simple requests to remove the piece to vile, foul-mouthed threats on me and my home.

Although initially disconcerted the editor soon regained his composure and took a stand against those who were trying to silence him:

Sorry pal, I don’t give into threats from people who are afraid to show their faces or use their correct names. Facebook makes it very easy for the faceless to become judge and jury on almost anything and anybody – even if they haven’t a clue what they’re talking about.

In this defence of free inquiry Spearman was doing more for a democratic culture than those seeking to intimidate him, asserting democratic rights in the face of attempts to subvert them.

Index On Censorship recently mapped out the type of intimidatory situations that journalists are confronted with as they go about their work. Fear is not an exotic lethal cocktail served up in far off places. It happens here at home, on our streets to our journalists, against the editor of Drogheda Life.  If people don't like what Andy Spearman writes there are ways of telling him that are not shelling him.


  1. Well stated AM.

    When a group of individuals who have the 'thought' that says 'I'm right' come together and take unmediated action then we have a mob.

    On such occasions responsible journalists and commentators ought courageously call out their loutish behaviour. Responsible and ethical reporters are worthy of moral support by responsible and ethical citizens when they need protecting from the mob.

    Again, well done sir.

  2. Henry Joy,

    first laugh of the day. Always like something to smile about on Monday mornings. Mob was the term that jumped to my own mind.

  3. Jesus,Are you sure you used to be a revolutionary Anthony?
    The role of Newspapers is to keep information from the people, we need more mob intercessions, not less.

  4. Like the type of intervention against Charlie Hebdo?

  5. Dáithí if you live long enough you might find yourself maturing into a more nuanced thinker too :)

  6. Ouch! I was only semi-serious.

    But can you not tell right from wrong without counting the sheep AM? If the oppressed Sunnni's are calling out for Sharia Law in under ISIS, are you telling me that its somehow legitimate because of majoritarian factors? Or is the last liberal left there, decrying the murderers still right in his majority of one?

    My point about Newspapers (and im sure you are aware yourself) is they are the vanguard of the propaganda war against Republicans, they parade Volunteers bloody corpses in thoroughly modern Crucifixions.I only read the sports pages cause im a Utd lover.
    Whilst I dont consider them neutral, I wouldnt advocate killing them, surely anything short of threats is allowable under the same free speech concept?

  7. Henry, if by nuanced you mean so crippled by the possibilities of inference you end up forgetting what you were considering in the first the place (naturally unlike your good self), id rather keep on my simplistic track.

  8. I know you were not advocating attacking them DaithiD.

    It is not about counting sheep or acquiescing in majoritarian principles. The majoritarian strand is a necessary attribute of democracy but not the only one. The alternative to allowing more people their say is to allow fewer people their say. How that would work better I don't know.

    Free speech is only such when the conditions exist for people to speak free from fear. Intimidating the opposition through discourse is not free speech.

    As biased or limited as newspapers are is society better or worse for them?

    You need only to read some of the republican arguments that have been presented here or elsewhere to appreciate that republicans need no assistance from the vanguard of propaganda against them to make them look an unappetising political project.

  9. As for revolutionaries - one of the most unappealing specimens imaginable. Revolutionaries are for the most part concerned about revolutionaries rather than revolution. I am most definitely not a revolutionary.

  10. While it is essential to support the free flow of information and in particular those who garner and deliver such,it is because of such people,s superb efforts that those in power make sure that we have to endure the endless reams of crap from those whose job it is to spread dis-information,those few who try to deliver the truth are heavily outnumbered by the muckspreaders a quick look the size of the press dept at Stormont is proof positive how much those carpetbaggers rely upon the wordsmiths,and need we forget the lies that emanated from the typewriters of Military int in Thiepval, counterbalance all this with the tireless efforts that a few are trying to tell us as it is and the on that note that we must protect those who really try to deliver the truth ,they are indeed few and a rare breed.

  11. Dáithí I had guessed your original comment was somewhat tongue in cheek ... as was my response.
    None the less freedom of expression is a central tenet of democracy. Attempts to shout down an opponent or attempts to curtail the free dispersal of information no matter how biased it might seem are aberrations of that very principle of free expression.

    I hold with my original point that when a group of individuals who think that they are right come together and react in an unmediated fashion that is nothing short of mobbish.

  12. AM, instead of measuring it by numbers of people being allowed their say, id measure it by what increases the amount of truth. (How novel and unmeasurable you may sigh!)
    I think Newspapers and the media in general are bad for society, certainly in there current incarnation, which I honestly believe is to obscure the important truths, things that would shake power, with froth and half-truths and distractions. Its a tradition quite removed from pamphlets published by anti-authoritarians centuries ago.Market forces always need to be tempered to prevent monopolies, because these then act against a functioning market, we have Newspapers as something close to truth cartels these days. If there is a such a thing as a noble one, it only gives cover to the existence of bad ones, so all must go. It maybe heading that way personal blogs these days anyway.
    PS Mass flatulence at an orchestra is a revolutionary act.

  13. We learned quite a bit from reading newspapers about the direction the republican struggle was going in, more that we would ever have learned from reading the AP/RN. One reason I suppose for the leadership not wanting us to read certain papers. If our only source of information in those days was AP/RN and the Andersonstown News how much would we have known? Newspapers for all their flaws are still a valuable resource. Nor should we inflate the truth status of blogs. Those behind the rubbish put on blogs are harder to nail. Media is always good for society: it just depends on what it is. But anything that allows us to get a different narrative out there is beneficial.

    As for increasing the amount of truth - we could have every religious nutter and his good book very quickly telling us he has the answer to that.

    No thanks.

  14. AM, I dont claim everything in newspapers is rubbish, I trust people would see through that. OK you learned alot about the Republican struggle, how does that measure up against them being the medium of the smears against the Bloody Sunday victims? The Hillsborough victims smears? The Iraq war lies? I dont think you can have one without the other, so we are confronted with a choice.
    Another point is, having salaried journalists is actually anti-thetical to investigiative journalism (which i do value too), much better to have citizen bloggers (like those guys blogging in Raqqa about ISIS) who are on the ground and have a real grasp of one subject, when a new story emerges, another set of empirical observations can be made by others, we wont have to swallow the rest of the crap that Newspapers churn out.

  15. They have been the medium for a lot of negative things. There is always contestation going on within them. Bloody Sunday and Hillsborough counternarratives also featured on papers and ultimately helped to overcome the official narrative. The case against the state in both instances was fought in the pages of the press and elsewhere.

    There are more political columnists than ever providing a range of views. Some great investigative journalism has been carried out by salaried journalists. Unpaid don't have the same resources. Does Seymour Hersh work gratis? The on the ground bloggers give their own view of things. It might be accurate, it might not. We need more of them rather than less. Same as newspapers. The greater the diversity, the more enhanced democracy. Bloggers are crucial to the flourishing and have often done the job that papers have not.

    Newspapers are not alone in churning out crap - the blogosphere has its own slurry tank as well. The trick is not to swallow it if we can avoid it.