Occupy protesters vs. the media
Earlier this week, CTV reporter Mi-Jung Lee was shouted down by an Occupy Vancouver participant who urged viewers to "stop listening to their lies" -- and he's hardly the only one unhappy with media coverage of the protest.
The man, who was arrested protesting former U.S. vice president Dick Cheney's recent Vancouver visit and charged with assault, stood behind Lee as she reported on the Occupy encampment during a live TV broadcast Tuesday night.
"It's just a lie, whatever she tells you is a lie about what's going on here," he yelled.
It wasn't the first tense moment between journalists and protesters. Last Wednesday, as ambulances arrived at the camp to help a woman in medical distress, protesters blocked cameras and accused the media of "spin-doctoring everything that goes on here."
Occupier Eric Hamilton-Smith says many have grown frustrated with news coverage in the weeks since the tent city was set up on Oct. 15.
"The old saying goes, ‘If it bleeds, it leads,'" Hamilton-Smith said. "Once I got started with this, I realized just how true that was. The media isn't interested in reporting any of our successes, only our failures."
"When we have a march that CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) endorses, with 2,500 people rallying with us… it doesn't receive a single line of press."
Negative stories -- including a clash between protesters and firefighters over an illegal open fire at the camp, and the refusal of Occupiers to fully comply with an order from the fire chief -- have been covered by virtually every media outlet in the city..
In particular, the tragic overdose death of Victoria resident Ashlie Gough, who had only been visiting the Vancouver camp for a few days when she was found dead on Nov. 5, sparked a flurry of coverage.
Hamilton-Smith, who has a bachelor's degree in political science and is waiting to defend his master's thesis in public policy, says it's telling that the more than 100 annual overdose deaths in Vancouver are rarely, if ever, covered.
"The focus on [Gough's death] was shameful," he said, adding that many protesters were sickened by the actions of one cameraman who "came and shoved his camera right into her tent, wanting to get a shot of a dead body."
The BC Coroners Service reported 140 overdose deaths in Vancouver in 2007, and Hamilton-Smith believes Gough's passing says nothing about the Occupy protest -- or safety at the camp.
Many protesters are also frustrated at the frequent use of ineloquent, uneducated participants in media interviews. Occupy cannot be accurately represented by such people, Hamilton-Smith said.
"The media just comes and picks the first person they can find and talks to them. A lot of people with mental illnesses will come up to a camera person and give an interview. Meanwhile, the people who should be doing interviews are hard at work in the media tent or the medic tent."
Protesters now blame the last month's media coverage for dwindling public support – the latest Angus Reid poll found only 29 per cent of respondents in favour of Occupy Vancouver – and the perception of participants as unemployed, homeless, drug-addicted anarchists.
"That may apply to about five or six people who are occupying currently. The vast majority of people do have jobs; they're skilled, they're talented, they're intelligent, they're clean of any kind of drug use and they're just concerned about what's going on in the financial system," Hamilton-Smith said.
He claims that several people work 80 hours per week: 40 at their jobs and 40 at the camp. They can work during the day and protest at night, or vice-versa. Some have used weeks of their annual vacation time to participate, according to Hamilton-Smith.
Yet fellow members of what Occupiers call "the 99 per cent" occasionally come to the camp to confront them and accuse them of wanting to leech off of others' hard work and tax dollars.
Hamilton-Smith, who has been employed as a carpenter during his unsuccessful, months-long hunt for work in his field, insists these individuals are closer to the protesters than they realize.
"These people have to work for well below what they should be getting paid," he said. "They think, ‘I have to put up with all of this s--- and so you do, too.' They think we're just complaining or whining."
"We're all in the same boat – but some of us see there's a reason to be hopeful. The only thing that distinguishes us is our acceptance of a problem and belief that change is possible."
The Occupy movement has not made any official demands; protesters say they are focusing first on cultivating public frustration with income inequality and corporate influence on politics.