I protest ... and it's all on video

The camcorder has become a vital part of the activist's armoury, both to promote the cause and to keep a watchful eye on the police. By Rob Brown

How do environmental and other single-issue campaigners ensure that their actions get covered by television? In the case of the recent Manchester Airport protest, they didn't have to do much. ITN positioned a producer, armed with a lightweight camcorder, in a treehouse for a week to record their demonstration.

That was unusual; national news stations have tended to give fringe campaigners a firm body-swerve, training their cameras instead on the political elite. Over the past decade more and more campaigners have started shooting their own material, which they try to squeeze on to news and current affairs programmes. Switched-on subversives also see camcorders as a way of documenting demos or deterring police violence.

"Video activism" gets a further boost this week with the publication of The Video Activist Handbook (Pluto Press). It may never be a bestseller, but its author, Thomas Harding, believes there is a growing market for his manual.

Hunt saboteurs were among the first British activists to use camcorders, mainly as a means of protection against terrier-men and hunt supporters. More recently they have been widely used by anti-roads campaigners. The power of the camcorder was demonstrated dramatically in Los Angeles in 1992, when a citizen happened to be in the right place at the right time to record the beating of Rodney King by police officers. Video activists in Britain have not captured footage with the force of the Californian episode, but they believe that their use of camcorders has deterred police violence during demonstrations and protests.

Not every protester has welcomed the camcorder. It can be hard to distinguish video activists from camcorder-carrying plain-clothes policemen and security guards, who may also seize footage shot by protesters and use it as evidence against them.

This is acknowledged by Roddy Mansfield, a former shop assistant with Boots, who became a video activist after seeing a Channel 4 documentary about fox-hunting and badger-baiting that used camcorder footage. "Some express concern that any army of activists wielding camcorders increases society's `Big Brother' factor," he says. "If you attend any live action today, you'll be videoed by police, private security guards and detective agencies working for the Government, all of whom are compiling secret files on us. That's spying on people.

"Yet when I see a security guard assault someone, or a police officer use unreasonable force, or a fox being torn apart, or a 400-year-old tree being destroyed, I'll be the first one to video it. That's not spying on people - that's justice!"

One of the biggest kicks for video activists is getting their recordings on to television. But it is a lot easier to get pictures on regional bulletins than on national programmes. Network news bosses have tended to treat tapes from video activists as suspect packages.

"I cannot remember when we last used that sort of material," says Richard Tait, editor-in-chief of ITN. "I know it sounds terribly pro-establishment, but we want to have our own reporters and camera crews on the spot shooting our own pictures."

But ITN did adopt some of the techniques of video activism to record the Manchester Airport protest. After a week in a tree house, Stewart Webb, an ITN producer, had footage of which any video activist would have been proud.

Peter Horrocks, editor of Newsnight, says he and his colleagues are always open to experimenting with news-gathering technology. "However, we're suspicious of people who offer us their pictures. We'll only use it if it's the only way we can cover a story and we're sure of its bona fides. Even then, we'll always be careful to label the source of the material when it appears on screen."

No national news station snubbed the video activist Paul O'Connor on 4 November 1994, when he shot exclusive footage of six protesters climbing on to the roof of the Houses of Parliament to oppose the Criminal Justice Bill, which was being passed that day.

At 28, Thomas Harding is disillusioned with the mainstream media. Just over three years ago, Harding integrated his television career and activist work by launching Britain's first alternative news service distributed on video cassette. The service, called undercurrents, bills itself as "news you don't see on the news", and was hailed as "the Pathe News of the Nineties" by Time Out and "compelling" by The Independent. More than 2,000 copies of each video are sold and it reaches an audience of more than 40,000 through group screenings.

The Oxford-based outfit has trained 500 people on how to use camcorders in their campaigns. Harding hopes that his book will perform the same educational function.

"When I started to use video for change," he says, "I had to learn everything by trial and error. I couldn't find a book that provided the tips I needed for my activist work. There were plenty of guides telling me how to make a wedding video, but none on how to become a video activist. With this book I hope to fill that gap".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
An iceberg in Ilulissat, Greenland; researchers have been studying the phenomena of the melting glaciers and their long-term ramifications for the rest of the world (Getty)
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Jackman bears his claws and loses the plot in X-Men movie 'The Wolverine'
Arts and Entertainment
'Knowledge is power': Angelina Jolie has written about her preventive surgery
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

Ashdown Group: .NET Developer : ASP.NET , C# , MVC , web development

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits - see advert: Ashdown Group: .N...

Guru Careers: 3D Package Designer / 3D Designer

£25 - 30K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an exceptional 3D Package Designer / 3...

Guru Careers: Interior Designer

£Competitive: Guru Careers: We are seeking a strong Middleweight / Senior Inte...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing