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Why did the mainstream media ignore the UK’s biggest anti-fracking rally?

The United Against Fracking Rally (UAFR) took place in Manchester on 12th November. It was the biggest anti-fracking protest held in the UK so far. The UAFR was organised by Frack Free Lancashire, in conjunction with Frack Free Greater Manchester and Frack Free Ryedale, after the first operation to drill for shale gas for five years was approved near the North Yorkshire village of Kirby Misperton in May. Campaigners are concerned that this decision will lead to more fracking across East and South Yorkshire, and in North Nottinghamshire. There was little coverage of the UAFR in the mainstream media.

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Marching to Castlefield from Piccadilly

 

The UK mainstream media and universities’ suppression of fracking research

Climate change means scientific research is now involved in political decision-making. So it was disturbing to hear David Smythe, an emeritus professor of geophysics at Glasgow University, talk at the UAFR about the ‘deep and insidious corporate influence in UK universities’. In his submission to the House of Lords economic affairs selected committee in November 2013, Smythe stated his belief that “fugitive methane… will eventually contaminate aquifiers”.

In July 2014 Smythe received he received a letter from University of Glasgow expressing concern that his work on the shale gas industry was ‘not consistent’ with the work being carried out at the university. That same year, The Times, The Daily Mail, and The Telegraph published articles claiming Smythe had lied about his academic credentials and was not really a chartered geologist. Smythe has decribed this as a ‘smear campaign’ and responded to these claims:

“The Geological Society awarded me a prestigious prize, the Lyell Fund, in 1985. I obtained the rank of Chartered Geologist, also awarded by the Geological Society, in 1990.
The Geological Society is now by great coincidence concerned about my twice wrongly claiming the status of Chartered Geologist. I was astonished to learn that by ceasing to pay annual fees in 1996, it meant that I was immediately thereafter deprived of chartered status.”

More recently, in January 2016, the University of Glasgow abruptly terminated Smythe’s access to the online research database that he needs for his work. A crowdfunding campaign has raised the money for Smythe’s legal fees so he can take University of Glasgow to court. He is optimistic about the case: “If we go to court, we will win”. He is similarly optimistic about the anti-fracking movement; Smythe believes the UK shale gas industry will fail because the US fracking industry is currently making losses.

 

Thousands came together at the UAFR in Castlefield, Manchester

Thousands came together at the UAFR in Castlefield, Manchester

Growing distrust of the UK mainstream media

Smythe’s experiences with corruption in UK media and universities might not shock as many people today as they would have in the past. Most people in the UK believe the national mainstream media is corrupt (82%) according to the YouGov poll recently reported on by the Salford Star.

Deyika Nzeribe, the Green Party candidate for Mayor of Greater Manchester (GM), spoke at the UAFR about the mainstream media having a duty to increase people’s awareness of the unpredictable and massive effects of fracking on the environment, such as the risks of triggering earthquakes and contaminating water supplies.

Another speaker at the UAFR who talked about this issue was Father Stephen Garsed from the Diocese of Blackburn, who spoke about the national mainstream media’s role in dehumanizing victims of the refugee crisis. He said that Jesus’ maxim to love thy neighbor “applies to our brothers and sisters overseas who are forced to become migrants because of climate change and are then demonized by the British press.”

Cynicism and hope

Conor Dwyer, from Friends of the Earth and the Youth Parliament for Preston, spoke about cynicism and hope. He said hope might not be a familiar concept right now because “the UK government is trampling people’s voices.” He believes that when people look back on our current government, they will see them “acting in contempt of the people it has a responsibility to.”

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Conor Dwyer talks about hope at the UAFR

However, it is this lack of faith in politicians which is driving some people who have never taken part in activism before to get involved in anti-fracking campaigns. One group which involves a lot of first-time activists is the Lancashire Nanas, many of whom became involved in anti-fracking campaigning after earthquakes were caused by Cuadrilla’s drilling in Blackpool in 2011. One of the Nanas, Tina Rothery, spoke at the UAFR about how “the one good thing to come from fracking is the way we have all come together to oppose it.”

Anti-fracking activists threatened with imprisonment

Tina has received some attention from the mainstream media recently because she was facing prison for refusing to pay over £55,000 to Cuadrilla. In August 2014, the Nanas occupied a field in Blackpool that was being considered for shale gas exploration for three weeks. Cuadrilla applied for an injunction to stop more protests in the area. They ordered Tina to pay over £55,000 of legal fees for seeking to stop their injunction.

Tina spoke at the UAFR about her upcoming court case:

“They think if they send me to prison, they will scare you. But if anyone goes to prison for opposing fracking, we will all stand with them.”

On Friday 9th December, Tina was cleared at Preston Combined Court after providing evidence that she could not pay Cuadrilla’s fees.

Tina Rothery speaking at the UAFR

Tina Rothery speaking at the UAFR

Anti-fracking camps

Tina introduced an anti-fracking video made by Emma Thompson at the UAFR. When she was making the video, Thompson asked Rothery what she should focus on. Rothery told her: “the people at the camps who rarely make it on the stage at rallies. Those at the camps endure so much and cripple the shale gas industry in the UK.”

At the UAFR The Meteor spoke to Joe Glow, who has been involved in protest camps on sites chosen for fracking exploration in the UK. He told The Meteor:

“I’m currently at Leith Hill Protection Camp. Two weeks ago we went in the night and set up our camp on section 6, the area they want to put the drill and build the security offices. We moved in there before they could set up fences and secure the site. They want to do exploratory drilling horizontally under the village there, Coldharbour. The people in the village have been really welcoming. We get local groups campaigning alongside us when we set up protest camps.”

Anti-fracking activists at protest camps are protecting the earth by occupying it. They give up the luxuries that are often taken for granted in modern Britain and live on these campsites with other activists. This direct action is powerful and protest camps have been integral to fracking opposition in the UK. The Meteor asked Joe about Leith Hill, the site he and other activists are currently protecting. He told us:

“It’s a beautiful forest. It’s an area of natural outstanding beauty. It’s very big with lots of pheasants, badgers and owls. There’s a badger set exactly where they want to drill.”

Obviously, there are many people who cannot be at protest camps. Anti-fracking activists like Joe make a huge commitment to the cause by living on site, surrounded by police. Joe told The Meteor that at the Leith Hill Protection Camp, they rely on locals to bring them hot food because they aren’t allowed to make fires in the forest they camp in. The Meteor asked Joe what people could do to support everyone at the protest camps:

“Come to the camp. Spread the word to people who can come to us. Visitors give us a boost and can bring things we need.”

Joe Glow speaks to The Meteor at the UAFR

Joe Glow speaks to The Meteor at the UAFR

Joe also spoke about how he has seen politics change since he began anti-fracking activism two years ago. He told The Meteor about a farmer in Duddleston who he met when the farmer allowed activists to use his field to access the protest camp they had set up next to it. After the protestors had successfully stopped the drilling in the area, the farmer invited some of the activists to start a permanent eco-community in his field. Joe said:

“It’s good to see people getting together to fight something inherently bad for people and the planet. Fracking brings lots of different people together and it gives me hope to see people are not just demonstrating, they’re taking action.”

“Not enough people know it’s possible to get energy from your own shit.”

Joe explained his opposition to the fracking industry: “It’s not just that fossil fuels are bad, renewable energy gives us the possibility of free energy – it’s power to the people.” He told The Meteor that small communities are leading the way by showing us how we can be sustainable and use alternative energy sources. Joe explained that there is a lot we can do, like thinking about how we build cities. He highlighted people’s unfamiliarity with alternative energy sources:

“Biomass combustion generators can take methane from sewage in the city that can be given back to the people. Not enough people know it’s possible to get energy from your own shit.”

People in the UK are so unfamiliar with alternative energy sources because the mainstream media are not giving enough coverage to the voices of anti-fracking protesters, especially those involved with direct action at the camps. The lack of coverage of the UK’s biggest anti-fracking protest highlights how out of touch corporate media currently is with its readers. The public reaction to protestors during the march was warm and supportive, and a recent YouGov poll showed that people’s support for fracking is at its lowest level ever.

What can we do?

A more diverse and fair media is badly needed in the UK. The corruption of mass media is frustrating but people are taking action. In Manchester, The Meteor is backing The Media Fund, alongside the Salford Star, the Centre for Investigative Journalism, and other national and local alternative media groups. The Media Fund is an online crowdfunding platform that collects monthly donations and then distributes the money to independent and grassroots media. The anti-fracking movement has reminded people of how powerful direct action and building alternatives are.

The Meteor recently got an update from Joe on the Leith Hill camp, he says that everything is going steady and it seems that Europa Oil are still far away from removing the activists or starting to drill. Joe says Europa Oil still have a lot of planning applications to process and that their stock value seems to be going down.

If you are interested in supporting The Media Fund then you can get more details or donate here.

Sorcha O’Callaghan

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