Today marks the 34th anniversary of the most violent day of the year long miners’ strike, the Battle of Orgreave.
On 18th June 1984 thousands of picketers at a BSC coking plant in Orgreave, South Yorkshire, were met by huge lines of police, leading to scenes of violence between the police and the miners, in which, among other things, police horses were sent to charge the crowd up the field, which was then followed by the police making arrests. Thirty-four years later, around 200 people took part in a rally today calling for an enquiry into what exactly happened on that day and the actions of the police involved. Amidst claims that the police were told to use maximum force when combating the miners, and for strikers who were present during these violent events, in which dogs, horses and riot gear were used, it is unsurprising that there remains a call for an investigation into a narrative that has been contested for so long. This demand for a definitive truth regarding the actions of the police at this event follows in spite of past Home Secretary Amber Rudd saying that there would be no inquiry, back in October 2016.
With this divisive event in mind, it is important to think about the role of media, both traditional and new, in how we form our own opinions on these kinds of events. When violent scenes erupt, we rely on our televisions, our radios, our papers, and more recently, online sources and social media to inform us. We want information, and increasingly, we want it fast, forming our own opinions based on what we might initially see or hear. This becomes tricky, as we all know, due to the fact that media is not a mirror; facts can be skewed, details can be missed, and that’s not even touching on intentional bias.
When the events at Orgreave were initially aired on the BBC, the footage showed the miners throwing stones at the police, and the police charging in retaliation, which helped fuel the narrative that the police responded with reasonable force to violence and rioting from the picketers. It was later revealed that this footage was reversed in editing, and that the miners were responding to the police’s charge, seemingly supporting the miners’ standing on the events, that the police charged at and attacked them without justifiable provocation. By the time that footage can be contested however, often the damage is already done, and the decided narrative solidified in the minds of so many.
Perhaps in these more technologically connected times you could argue that this is not an issue we have to face anymore, as we have access to so many more channels of information from which to get our facts. Indeed, with anyone having the potential to share their experiences, footage or thoughts on a certain matter, there is not necessarily a threat of a lack of information on a controversial event, but rather, the issue is now an overwhelming surplus of it. This amount of information in regards to charged issues might not be an problem if it weren’t for the flaws of old media being carried along with it, that of an adversarial mentality when it comes to reporting. In a reading and Q&A session on our SoundCloud, Martyn Bedford, an author who has written on the Battle of Orgreave for Comma in his short story ‘Withen’, argued in regards to journalism:
‘News has always been adversarial to an extent […] its true of our culture generally; the courts system is adversarial isn’t it? You have a prosecutor and a defence. I used to cover court cases a lot as a journalist and I very rarely got a sense of the court trying to find some underlying truth of what had happened, it would be which side is better at proving their case would be the outcome, and journalism and politics is the same.’
This sense of a ‘prosecutor and a defence’ can certainly be seen in the reports surrounding these events, both in traditional media, and online, as some of the tweets in the Orgreave hashtag can demonstrate. The search for the truth can often be lost in the scrabble to find an engaging story.
This is what makes this rally so important. The collective desire to seek the ‘underlying truth’ of past events and hold those responsible accountable is different to an adversarial mindset, as truth requires some nuance. However, this being said, it is important not to completely undermine the value of media in regards to such events, as the power to uncover the truth still resides with those within the government. Media is a method through which people can regain some of their control, and speak back to those in power, through reporting, social media or even in creative work. Take Jeremy Deller’s re-enactment of the Battle of Orgreave for example, as a method by which to shed some light onto a past confrontation, and while Deller describes the events as ‘having the quality of a war scene rather than a labour dispute’ the work itself does not force someone into a particular mentality but rather shares a perspective that was previously erased by past reporting. Unlike the initial news reports on Orgreave, the power to share one’s own perspective is now much more accessible, even if this can lead to misinformation and bias’ of one’s own. The difference now is we are burdened with seeking out different perspectives, rather than being fed one or two, however I think most would agree this is a burden they are willing to bear when it comes to injustice.
There seems to be a delicate balance to be had by the role of media in conveying the events surrounding a case such as Orgreave, as it can help define the narrative within people’s minds, for better or for worse. It would be misleading to act as though the footage aired by the BBC at the time is comparable with someone who was at the pickets sharing their own experience, but it is important in either case to search out a variety of sources while we are in such a privileged position to do so. While the demand for the truth is still ongoing, it is important to share one’s perspective and create media in response to the silence, such as Deller and Bedford’s work, all while remaining aware that bias doesn’t die with old media, and to inform ourselves as best we can when speaking out about such events as Orgreave.
‘Withen’ by Martyn Bedford, a story based on the events of the Battle of Orgreave, features in both Letters Home, Bedford’s single author collection, as well as Protest: Stories of Resistance, where it accompanied by an afterword by Professor David Waddington. Both are available to buy at commapress.co.uk.
The Battle of Orgreave (2001) re-enactment by Jeremy Deller, is available for viewing on his website.
Ruth Jones is our Marketing and Publicity Assistant gaining experience at Comma on an internship sponsored and facilitated by Lancaster University. She currently finishing her BA in English Literature at Lancaster University and will begin studying for her MA in Publishing at UCLAN next year.