- the role of the media, and why the films must be widely shown.
Channel 4's 1997 'McLibel' dramatisation - distribution suppressed by lawyers |
- In May 1997, a month before the McLibel verdict, Channel 4 TV broadcast
a dramatised reconstruction of in-court highlights of the McLibel trial - it
was three and a quarter hours long, and shown over 2 nights to great
critical and popular acclaim. The reconstructed courtroom was uncanny in its
resemblance to court 35 in the High Court where the trial ran for almost 3
years, and the selection of extracts from witness testimony gave the public
some idea of what the issues were actually about that were being argued over
during the case. In that last respect, apart maybe from one lengthy article
in the UK Guardian in January 1995, it was probably the ONLY
production/article that was published/broadcast throughout the whole case
which bothered to actually inform the public about what was going on in the
courtroom and what it was all about. The result stands as a testimony to the
enormous amount of work and care that had gone into the making of the
Why then are the two productions now being suppressed by the TV networks?
- When media coverage of the case is looked at and analysed it becomes obvious that the case was covered only patchily (even in the UK Press, which gave the OJ Simpson trial at least 50 times the coverage), was almost never looked at in depth (with one or two exceptions), was portrayed as a 'human' or 'David vs Goliath' story concentrating on trivia (how long it was going on, what the defendants were wearing in court etc), and was rarely taken seriously despite being a challenge to the propaganda of the food industry and the power of oppressive libel laws. And incredibly, this is despite the fact that everyone in the media is in fear of those same libel laws breathing down their own necks - and here at last was a case with great public support and interest which was not only exposing these laws, but also showing how censorship could be easily opposed and defeated. You would've expected the entire media to line up behind the defence, if only out of pure self-interest.
But the media seem to treat McDonald's either with awe and sycophancy, or else as daft and jokey, a harmless and well-loved service organisation. McDonald's articles and pieces fill a great deal of space. To take seriously a trial which exposed the reality of a ruthless and powerful profiteering multinational and their mediocre over-hyped products, would be bound to raise questions about the role of the media in their sucking up to multinationals and the food industry.
And on top of that, as soon as the media go into the case in any depth it becomes impossible to hide the fact that the two worlds which were in conflict in the courtroom and on the streets were not just arguing about jeans vs suits, or McDonald's vs Burger King, or even high fat vs low fat products. They were arguing about issues fundamental to people's everyday lives, and anarchists opposing the oppressiveness and greed of capitalism as a whole were winning all the arguments and getting the public's backing. And showing up the powerlessness of the legal system when faced with determined and co-ordinated grass-roots opposition.
Hence the media, as the faithful mouthpiece of the establishment, chose to either ignore, or trivialise the case and campaign.
What can be done?
- If the official media won't broadcast material the public have a right to see, other ways must be found, and are being found, to reach large numbers of people in the UK and around the world. The C4 McLibel dramatisation was copied by many viewers when it was shown - it could be 'pirated' and made available on video. [Anyone who has done this - or is planning to do this - please let us know]. The McLibel documentary is being distributed as 'streaming video' on the Internet, on cable TV in the States, at international film festivals, on home video, at local video screenings and even by a travelling solar-powered cinema. Negotiations are continuing with mainstream TV stations in countries with less oppressive libel laws (including France, Canada, Australia). The McLibel Support Campaign and One-Off Productions have held a co-ordinated day of showings and protests to raise public awareness of the scandalous official suppression of the film and how it can be seen independently.
Surely the lesson of the McLibel case is that the determination of campaigners has ensured that the public is able to have access to material countering the glossy propaganda of multinationals, providing an alternative to their huge marketing budgets (McDonald's annual budget alone is over $2 billion world-wide) - despite the role of the media and the legal establishment in promoting and protecting the interests of big business. Leaflets continue to be circulated in millions, the number of protests outside local stores around the world continues to grow, material on the McSpotlight website had been globally accessed over 40 million times in its first two and a half years (and is now available on CD-Rom), and the McLibel TV documentary is gradually being distributed and shown independently.
We believe that the McLibel case is only one of many, diverse battles all over the world. On one side there are the greedy and powerful institutions which dominate our lives, our society and the environment, and on the other side there are people's efforts to expose the truth and to defend themselves and their communities. We are not surprised therefore when we discover the extent of the suppression of people's freedom of speech, but we call on people everywhere to not be discouraged, to not accept it, and to not be intimidated by legal threats.