After the G20 protests last year, the initial media response was that the police had done a marvellous job.
It wasn’t until days later that footage of unprovoked attacks by riot cops appeared. Soon it became clear that Ian Tomlinson, who died on a pavement near the Bank of England, was not the simple victim of a heart attack, as the police had claimed.
He had been struck by a police baton before his death and – even though virtually all of the CCTV film in the vicinity had mysteriously disappeared – the event had been captured on video, using mobile phones.
There is an eerie similarity between the images of that assault and those that appear in a newly released compilation of short films on the 1984–85 Miners’ Strike.
Taken by a collective of independent filmmakers on hand-held cameras, these movies graphically convey the hardship faced by miners and their families during the year-long dispute – and their unbelievable fortitude.
They expose the way in which the mainstream media, including the BBC, dispensed with any pretence of balanced news coverage for the duration of the strike and became an out-and-out lie machine working for Margaret Thatcher and the National Coal Board bosses.
Media coverage of the dispute is the main subject of one of the films, called The Lie Machine, but it is a repeated theme in the other five tapes.
In images which are still deeply shocking to this day, these films convey some of the immediacy of the emotional response of mining communities to being besieged by an army of police.
An estimated 18,000 police were billeted in pit villages and on picket lines during the strike.
As one of the contributors points out, “Such was the thoroughness of the blackout of images of police violence by the mainstream media that one can only conclude that those responsible for editorial policy regarded showing them as simply too potentially damaging to the government’s case.”
These films contain plenty of clips of people supporting the strike, including Arthur Scargill and Peter Heathfield from the miners’ union, Labour MPs Tony Benn and Dennis Skinner, and campaigning journalist Paul Foot.
But the bulk of the footage is interviews with ordinary miners and their families. The mainstream press only ever portrayed miners’ wives as being opposed to the strike. But as is shown here, ten times more wholeheartedly supported it – playing a heroic role in the Miners’ Support Groups.
Other workers from industries like the docks and the print are also interviewed. They could see only too clearly that they would be next on Thatcher’s hit list if the miners were crushed.
All of these films were taken by radical filmmakers who supported the miners’ struggle. In this set of short movies, they have produced a valuable document of one of the most cataclysmic events in recent history.
The Miners’ Campaign Tapes is available on DVD from the British Film Institute. 020 7815 1350, or online at » www.bfi.org.uk/filmstore