Covering Recent Protests

Lately there has been a lot of accusations against the media regarding their reporting on the protests in Slovenia. Whereas I agree to some degree, I don’t think it’s as simple as people want to make it.

The cartoon spreading around Facebook that shows a mass of peaceful protesters behind TV crews and photographers taking pictures of a single violent protester smashing a car is utterly misleading and simplistic. In short, riots and peaceful protests never happen simultaneously. So the problem lies elsewhere, not in what we take pictures of in the first place. It’s about what gets published.

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If you only see our photos of violent hooligans throwing stones and flares and pyrotechnics in the media, that doesn’t mean we waited in a bar for the shit to hit the fan and then walked directly into a battle between the police and a group of hooded protesters. We are there when the protest starts, taking pictures of peaceful protesters, the worn down faces of people tired of their situation in this country, the signs telling the elite to go etc. Personally, my favorite photo of these protests is that of an old lady wearing a big sign around her neck and carrying a big, but obviously empty shopping bag. She was calm, but determined. She seemed content and joyful, but she protested against the same things. And she looked like she just came by on her way from the grocery store where she obviously couldn’t afford to buy much.

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Violent protests are not really protests anymore. They’re simply riots. And when they start, the peaceful protesters move away and mostly go home. But no matter what the protests turn into, we must cover it. So it’s not our sensationalist nature to cover them, it’s the quest for truth, to show what was really going on. On the ground level, that’s exactly what we do. What happens up in the editorial offices is different. They decide what’ll make the news, not us, photographers. So it’s a little rude to present us as some sensationalist thrill seekers jacking off on violence and narrowing the protests down to just rioting.

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We’re not dumb. We actually see and understand a lot more than most citizens, because we’re in the middle of the information flow. We don’t narrow ourselves down like that. And besides, we’re not that keen on putting ourselves between the rioters and the police, you know. A cobblestone can penetrate a police helmet, let alone the helmets we wear (if we wear them! We didn’t when violence broke out in Ljubljana.). And it’s very unpleasant to be exposed to teargas. Your eyes sting and water up, your nose is running, esophagus, trachea and lungs burn, you caugh like crazy, you can’t see, you can’t run… In severe cases you get badly poisoned, starting with passing out… But that’s if you’re not protected and you don’t run from teargas…

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I wish I could draw. I’d draw a more realistic drawing of what is happening when we are photographing a violent protest. Mostly, we run. Protesters run all over the place, we run from one cover to another in all directions, teargas smokes on the ground, we can’t see, we can’t breathe, nobody is taking pictures when they can’t see, peaceful protesters are long gone, violent ones run away, but come back soon, now we’re here, half a minute later we’re on the other side of the street and another half a minute later we’re somewhere in the middle, all the time evading cobblestones from one side, police stampede from the other or from several sides. It’s chaos.

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I don’t approve of violence, but the fact that it is happening should tell you something is really wrong in this country and people have had it. Honestly, you reap what you sow.

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I graduated from journalism (when it was still thorough and high quality), so I know exactly how the media filters information, how they simplify it lately, how they make over simplistic and a lot of times wrong causal connections. I agree that there are way to many of such journalists lately, especially in commercial television that fuels itself on simplicity that the masses understand. So whereas a journalist decides what to write, the photos that make the cut are decided by the media, not the “workers” who made them.

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We all have editors. And editors have people above them. And people above them have political tendencies. Ownership of our media is tightly linked to all sorts of economic and political entities that most of us don’t know about. But if you really want to understand what you’re watching, whose ideology you are gulping down when you read utterly unobjective battering, try reading one of Sandra Bašič Hrvatin’s book on ownership of Slovenian media.

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I’d also suggest a book on how to view the media, how to understand the filtering process, how to critically watch the news etc. Media education (Vzgoja za medije) by Manca Košir was introduced to elementary schools as an optional course. I think it should be obligatory. Because in twenty years, the media, along with parents not doing their job or mostly having too little time to raise their kids (so the media do the job for them), dumbed the nation down so much you could actually spread any news and make people believe it. They don’t read or view content critically enough, they soak it in too much. Which is why unobjective, politically biased and most of all unethical and immoral media are dangerous. Because we’re not used to such manipulation. And they’re spreading.

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There’s no regulation, so any media can make false accusations, assumptions, rumors, or even causal connections bent to meet the media’s interests. If done on a daily basis, who would actually bother suing them every day? Especially, if that’s in the most busy time for the person affected, like elections. That shit can turn the elections around! It’s assumed that people would recognize a shitty magazine when they see one. WRONG! They won’t. They’ll believe it. They’ll adopt their thinking patterns. Only a part of the nation will recognize them for the scum they are.

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So now you see how that cartoon jumped down several levels to actually show how our readers and viewers simplify media. Because they were never taught to understand how it all works. Firstly, it simplifies the work of media down to taking pictures and video, only a part of the journalistic process and one bar in the entire media ladder. Secondly, it simplifies violent protests to present them as violent on one part and peaceful on the other. It also simplifies the work of photographers and cameramen making you believe we only take pictures of violence. And what it represents by this over simplistic drawing is total failure to understand how the media works. Simplifying the media structures, work etc.

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I have one advice to the people who try to be smart about it. Be there. See what it’s like. It starts peacefully and can turn into total violent chaos in five minutes. I don’t care what certain scum of our media uses the protests for. It’s all politics. That shouldn’t be there anyway. I take pictures of what I see. I can’t influence what they’ll use. Someone else is making that decision. And if you know I am a freelance photographer, I think you’re aware that by writing all this, I am mostly defending my fellow photographers who work for Slovenian media, and other agencies. They don’t need defending anyway, they’ll do their job whether you love or hate the media. But I think you need some insight. It’s not as simple as you were made to believe. Which applies to a lot of new beliefs and thinking patterns imprinted on way too many people by our media in recent years and months. Unfortunately, only time will show how they got screwed over. It always does.

3 thoughts on “Covering Recent Protests

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