rn: Media Portrayal of Festival of NonViolence


Jan Slakov

Dear Renaissance Network,

To make our protests as effective as possible, we need to do lots of work
around them, including trying to improve the way the media portrays our
actions. This posting is about that work.

Through the no_to_Nato list serv set up to help organize the Festival of
NonViolence to protest NATO, I received the article (excerpted below) to
which my letter (below) is responding and a critique of that article
(excerpted below).

I  hope it will be of interest... and INSPIRATION.

all the best, Jan
PS To join the no_to_Nato list serv
send no_to_nato   to   <•••@••.•••> or see the end of this posting.
to: the Ottawa Citizen <•••@••.•••>
Dear Editor,

I am one of the protesters who does not plan to use violence to express my
outrage at NATO actions. 

Unlike journalist Carolynne Wheeler (re: her article of Aug. 14, "Protesters
won't use violence at NATO assembly in Ottawa But group advocates 'civil
disobedience' to get message across"), I would not use the word "but". AND I
advocate upholding the Nurmeburg principles which make each citizen
responsible for not complying with war crimes committed by his or her
country. This can include civil disobedience.

War crimes? The list is too long for this letter, but some facts must come out:

In its war against Yugoslavia, NATO used weapons that are prohibited
by the Hague and Geneva Conventions and the Nuremburg Charter, such as
depleted uranium missiles and anti-personnel cluster bombs (that contravene
the "Ottawa Process on Landmines).

Nato's war against Yugoslavia was illegal under its own Charter and various
international laws.

We, the public, were lied to about incidents that justified the supposedly
"humanitarian" bombing. This "humanitarian" disaster continues, with NATO
forces helping keep some KLA (now called the Kosovo Protection Corps or KPC)
criminals in power while simultaneously pursuing Milosovitch, through a
process which undermines real efforts to enforce international law such as
the International Court of Justice (ICJ) or the International Criminal Court

We must ask ourselves why our leaders went along with a war which was, and
is, anything but "humanitarian". I believe it is because they are, for the
most part, going along with the wishes of the big money that backs them in
elections. And that big money wants oil pipelines built through Yugoslavia;
it wants the Yugoslav economy in its control.

Please contact the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade to join us in our
Festival of Nonviolence to oppose NATO and its war crimes.

Sincerely, Jan Slakov, Box 35, Weymouth, NS B0W 3T0 (902) 837-4980
Date: Tue, 14 Aug 2001 07:23:47 -0400
From: Richard Sanders <•••@••.•••>
Subject: no_to_nato Today's Ottawa Citizen article: "Protesters won't use
  at NATO assembly"

Here is today's Ottawa Citizen article on our nonviolent festival to raise
awareness about NATO's crimes.  

Please use this article as the starting point of a letter to the editor of
the Ottawa Citizen <•••@••.•••>

I suggest that you include some reasons for opposing NATO.  The Citizen
reporter did not cite a single reason why we are opposed to NATO. 

You can refer to the list of "Reasons to Oppose NATO"

In solidarity,
Richard Sanders
Coordinator, COAT
Protesters won't use violence at NATO assembly in Ottawa
But group advocates 'civil disobedience' to get message across
By Carolynne Wheeler

(Ottawa Citizen, Tuesday August 14, 2001, B3.)

Protesters organizing demonstrations during this fall's meeting of the
North Atlantic Treaty Organization's Parliamentary Assembly in Ottawa say
it will not repeat the violence that rocked Quebec City in the spring.

A No to NATO: Festival of Creative Nonviolence is expected to draw about
1000 protesters, a fraction of the tens of thousands who protested at the
Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in April.

Organizer Richard Sanders says summer vacation and the NATO assembly's
lower profile -- it does not include leaders or defence ministers -- have
dampened the momentum needed for larger crowds.

Though adamant the protest will be peaceful, the group is advocating "civil
disobedience" in trying to serve government officials with citizen's
arrests, and using police barricades to symbolize prisons for war criminals.

"We're just not tolerating any discussion of (violence).  No one has
actually proposed any violent activities to take place at the thing.

"But there's been a broad-ranging discussion about what the boundary is
between vio-lence and non-violence," said Mr. Sanders, co-ordinator of the
Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade.

"There is a grey area there … Is all damage to property violence?  What
about a slave crashing his chains with a rock?"  Mr. Sanders asked.

"The object of our protest is not a fence. The object of our protest is not
the police. We're trying to express peaceful opposition to NATO."

The NATO Parliamentary Assembly, comprised of back-bench parliamentarians
from 19 member countries and 17 associate countries, meets twice a year to
debate current issues and draw up resolutions. Conflict in Macedonia, NATO
expansion and missile defence systems are expected to be major issues for
about 8oo politicians representing both government and opposition in each

The meeting, to be held Oct. 5-9, was moved to Ottawa after the city of
Victoria expressed concerns with hosting, including an estimated policing
cost of $3 million.

Ottawa had expected to host next summer's G8 summit before it was moved to
Kananaskis, Alberta because of security concerns. Ottawa Mayor Bob
Chiarelli said yesterday he has no major concerns about the NATO event.
The protesters' festival on Oct. 6 follows a day of panel discussions at
the Westin organized by Vancouver-based End the Arms Race, featuring
Council of Canadians president Maude Barlow, activist and celebrity
protester Jaggi Singh, and social activist Owens WiWa, brother of the
executed Nigerian playwright Ken Saro Wiwa.
Date: Tue, 14 Aug 2001 11:40:40 -0400
To: •••@••.•••
From: Richard Sanders <•••@••.•••>
Subject: no_to_nato Please read this critique of Ottawa Citizen article

Critique of the Ottawa Citizen article, Aug 14, 2001.  

(Please write a letter of complaint to the Ottawa Citizen

The whole emphasis of the Ottawa Citizen's article on August 14
("Protesters won't use violence at NATO assembly in Ottawa") is a favourite
media subject -- protest violence.  The title is: "Protesters won't use
violence at NATO assembly in Ottawa."  Why is this statement even
necessary?  The Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade was organized many
events in Ottawa over the past 12 years.  We've certainly never used
violence before.  Why then would it come as a surprise, or as something
worthy of any media attention, that we "won't use violence" at an upcoming
event?  Why is it necessary for this to even be stated, let alone that it
be the main headline and the main thrust of the article?

The answer is that strong elements within the corporate media are keen to
portray protesters as violent and they are equally keen to cover up the
violence waged NATO.  Some huge protests have indeed had small minorities
who did chuck rocks and rock fences.  This Citizen reporter however, was
not able or willing to distinguish clearly between widely divergent groups
responsible for a variety of very different protests.  The message conveyed
is that all protesters are really part of the same "group."  They're all
"protesters" right?  In my interview, I listed a two dozen different
organizations that had so far endorsed the festival.  But the reporter says
we're all part of a "group" and implies that this "group" includes those
who use violence. 

The subheading of her article is: "But group advocates 'civil disobedience'
to get message across"

What does this imply?  Specifically, what does the strategic use of the
word "But..." imply in this statement?  The underlying message is that many
will glean from this is:  "Although they SAY that they won't use violence,
this group of protesters is up to no good."

This meta-message is seen again in the fourth paragraph which starts:
"Though adamant the protest will be peaceful, the group is advocating
'civil disobedience'..."  Once again we get the sense that there's a
contradiction between "nonviolence" and "civil disobedience."  As if the
two are mutually exclusive and as if we are saying one thing but secretly
organizing something quite different.  

Her sentence goes on to say: "...the group is advocating 'civil
disobedience' in trying to serve government officials with citizen's
arrests."  Yesterday, when she asked about this idea, I quoted from the
document where she found this information: "Here are some of the ideas
we've been discussing..."  I explained that this was an "idea" from an
online brainstorming discussion.  I told her that knew of no groups or
individuals that were actually planning this type of action.

Those who know very little about the meaning of the term "civil
disobedience", and who don't associate this term with the likes of Mahatma
Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Christ for that matter -- ie., many of
the readers of the Ottawa Citizen -- will likely get the reporter's
underlying message loud and clear: These protesters are a disingenuous
group and that citizens should take our professed belief in nonviolence
with a grain of salt. 

As an aside:  Perhaps that grain of salt will come from Gandhi's "salt
march."  Gandhi organized this march through India down to the coast of the
India Ocean to protest British monopoly over salt production in India.
Totally nonviolent protesters were beaten ruthlessly by the British police
for producing salt from a body of sea water that is ironically named after
them.  Gandhi's famous "salt march" comes to mind today because yesterday I
received an email from Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas, and
founder/director of the M.K.Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence in the US.
They have endorsed our festival!).  Arun told me about how the participants
in that great event were trained to not even raise their arms to protect
themselves from police truncheon blows.  Gandhi did believe that
self-defence was permissible but in this case, such acts of self-defence
were known from experience to provoke heavily-armed police to shot and kill

The very first sentence in the Ottawa Citizen article says: "Protesters ...
will not repeat the violence that rocked Quebec City in the spring."
However, this twists the truth.  The fact is that we cannot "repeat" the
violence at Quebec City because we were not responsible for any violence
there in the first place.  How can we "repeat" something that we've never
done before?  

Again, we have the problem that all protesters are deliberately lumped
together as if we were one single, uniform "group."  This is clearly
stereotyping.  (Are there lawyers among uswho can say whether the mandate
of the Canadian Human Rights Commission covers such blatant examples of
prejudice, discrimination and liable against "protesters"?  It seems that
all protesters are fair game for the media.  A few dozen protesters out of
the 60,000, or more, who went to Quebec City, are now confirmed as violent.
 We are in the media's eyes ALL violent, even when we say and do otherwise.

So often nowadays, violence is portrayed as the assumed stance of all
protesters.  Hence, when "protesters" say they are organizing a festival to
celebrate nonviolence, it becomes a news story.  The reporter seems to want
to convey the following stream of consciousness in the reader's mind: "A
nonviolent protest?  How novel!  Well, that's a different approach isn't
it?  But wait a minute now, are these protesters really going to be
nonviolent?  That group organized the violence that 'rocked Quebec.'  I
don't trust protesters.  I sure won't attend their so-called peace
festival.  I don't know why they'd want to protest NATO anyway."

The reason that reader don't know why we "protesters" oppose NATO is
because the reporter fails to mention a single reason (of the 24 provided
to her) explaining why we oppose NATO.  She fails to mention even one
example of the incredible violence that was waged by NATO against the
citizens of Yugoslavia during it's illegal war in 1999.  For example, point
number 7, in our list of reasons to oppose NATO says, in part:

"NATO forces used 1,200 warplanes and helicopters to fly 35,000 combat
missions against Yugoslavia.  It dropped 20,000 bombs and missiles
containing 80,000 tons of explosives on that country."

The artcile makes no mention of this violent reality that was actually
inflicted by NATO upon the people of Yugoslavia.  NATO killed thousands,
injured many more, destroyed hundreds of civilian targets, wreaked havoc
upon the economy and poisoned the environment of the entire region for
generations to come.  This violence is not worth mentioning, even though it
is a main reason why we protesters are holding our event and even though
the article professes to deal with our event.  

Of course, the word "violence" WAS used in the article.  However, it was
used not to refer to the violence of NATO's war but only to violence by
protesters.  For example: the reporter refers to "the violence that rocked
Quebec City in the spring."  (It was a clever use of the word "rocked,"
I'll give her that.  But in this context, the reporter clearly is referring
to violence by protesters, not violence inflicted by police on many
peaceful folks who endured thousands of tear gas canisters hurled at them.)

There is also the hint of *potential violence* at our explicitly nonviolent
event.  The implication is that there may be violence from some protesters
and that some protesters may even be planning violent actions.  There is no
evidence of this, but there certainly is proof that NATO is deliberately
planning violence in the future, up to and including the "first use" of
nuclear weapons.  The Citizen reporter makes no mention of the fact that
NATO has actual official plans, indeed a military doctrine/strategy on the
books, to use nuclear weapons.  Not only do they have plans for nuclear war
(shudder the thought!) but they also openly profess a policy of "first
strike," i.e., they are prepared to launch nuclear weapons even if others
have NOT launched nuclear weapons at them.  

Of course this is a potentiality for violence which is far outshadowed by
the tremendous horror of violence that is apparently lurking just beneath
the surface of our "Festival of Creative NonViolence."

All of this, and much more, about this article is very disturbing.  But, it
is not unexpected.

Please write letters to the Ottawa Citizen <•••@••.•••>.  

I will try to get them to publish an article to set the record straight and
to explain our reasons for opposing NATO.

In solidarity
Richard Sanders
Coordinator, Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade

                          Richard Sanders
       Coordinator, Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT)
              A national peace network supported by 
           individuals and organizations across Canada
          541 McLeod St., Ottawa Ontario K1R 5R2  Canada
            Tel.:  613-231-3076      Fax: 613-231-2614
     Email: <•••@••.•••>   Web site: <http://www.ncf.ca/coat>

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