19 March 2006

CNN's coverage of the CPE "Riots"

[posted by Colin]

While we're over here, we often use cnn.com to keep up on the news back home. Last November, their coverage of the riots in Paris was amusing to us, since it reflected absolutely nothing of our experience of those weeks!! We saw galleries of photos of burning cars and violent confrontations between the youth and the police. We're not saying that stuff didn't happen, but the actual violence was blown out of proportion in their coverage.

The coverage has gotten even worse regarding the CPE demonstrations. I just read the CNN story about the manifestation that we watched today. There's also a really dramatic gallery of photos. Be sure to check them out.

All right...here are my problems with that story.

#1) The headline is: "French Labor Law Protests Turn Violent." That is not news today; that was news Thursday when some 50 police officers were injured (most with minor injuries as I understand) and a couple hundred youth were brought in for questioning. That was also news last week when the students occupied the Sorbonne and were subsequently forced out by the police. That was also news when politically right students who wanted to resume their studies confronted the politically left students who were blocading the university.

#2) Again, the headline is: "French Labor Law Protests Turn Violent." That is a gross misrepresentation of the facts. More than a million protestors took to the streets in France today (350,000 in Paris, according to the Agence France Presse). By and large, it was a perfectly routine manifestation, despite its unusual size. According to AFP and Le Monde, the "violent clashes between demonstrators and police" actually involved about 50 people who showed up at the end of the march and were spoiling for a fight. According to France 3 news, only one car in Paris was overturned and set on fire. One. CNN happened to get a photo of it and put it in their gallery.

#3) There was indeed violence associated with the protests today and last Thursday. But, CNN does a terrible job representing the relationship between that violence and the groups protesting. The left side of the French political spectrum contains somewhere around a dozen parties. What I've been gathering from French news sources is that all of the violence is being attributed to one or two of the most extreme parties. These parties have been consistently described as anarchists and I think it highly plausible that the government and French journalists have them pegged correctly—they are consistently showing up at the ends of the demonstrations and are consistently picking fights with the police. In other words, the violent groups are using the anti-CPE demonstrations as a publicity vehicle for their own political motives.

#4) On cnn.com you will also find a video that carries a variety of titles, such as "Watch protestors charge riot police" and "French labor law makes people really mad." Jim Bitterman and Miles O'Brien severely disappointed me on this one. Bitterman's description of the law was a poor description, considering he's a foreign correspondant for a major news organization. Not that he got much help from O'Brien: "Obviously the students are for it...I guess the business leaders are against it?" [paraphrased]. Come on, what kind of question is that? The real question is—who is supporting this measure? (Business leaders, de Villepin, Chirac, the UMP.) Who is against it? (At least 9 political parties and almost all of the unions in the country; according to a poll today, more than 60% of French voters oppose it.)

#5) The gallery of pictures related to this story shows 10 very violent pictures. Folks, we were there, too. Take a look at Amy's pictures and videos. Do some searching around on the internet, you'll find a ton of pictures like Amy's. For the first four hours, this was a completely peaceful, family-oriented demonstration.

In summary: I certainly don't consider myself a leftist, and am usually pretty luke-warm when it comes to labor unions. In this case, if you believe CNN, the French unions and students have France perched on the verge of complete civil disorder. If you were actually there today, watching 350,000 people march, sing, and dance in front of you, you know better. My hats are off to the organizers of today's demonstration! I'm still not sure where I stand on the issue, but I do know that the unions and students did not disgrace their cause today.

So...I guess the moral of all this is: consumer beware. Always remember that (at least in American journalism), "if it bleeds, it leads."

[Colin now steps off his soapbox and hopes that this blog quickly returns to its regular programming.]

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