Since when has News Limited been propaganda machine for law enforcement agencies in this country? At least since this morning, it seems. The Brisbane Courier-Mail, The Sydney Daily Telegraph, The Melbourne Herald Sun, the Adelaide Advertiser and The Townsville Bulletin have all given over their front pages to what is essentially an unpaid advertisement for the police forces.
These papers all carry a story that announces that police commissioners around Australia have decided that on the weekend of December 11-12 they will unleash a full-scale attack on street violence. There will be thousands of coppers in riot gear with weapons, police dogs, undercover police and hundreds of officers roaming the streets for 48 hours. This is designed, apparently, to stop drunken street violence.
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What is disturbing about these front-page splashes is that the image they project is of an aggressive police force whose members will resort to acts of violence themselves if the need arises. The atmospherics created by this propaganda exercise are not subtle — the use of the phrase “reclaiming our streets” by News Limited and police media units today is clearly designed to let the community know that on December 11-12 our downtown areas will be battlefields.
The message that emanates from Operation Unite, as the joint December 11-12 exercise is called, is that we need to meet violence with violence. The language used by newspapers such as the Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun in particular on the issue of street violence is already aggressive and provocative. It is designed to engender revenge. A report in this morning’s Herald Sun, for example, refers to the three young men jailed yesterday for serious assaults “gutless thugs”. And the same newspaper has on its front page, a photo of a police officer equipped with all manner of weaponry and looking as though he is about to have a shoot out with the Taliban.
Operation Unite is essentially a variant on what might be termed “zero tolerance” or “quality of life” policing. It was used extensively in the US in the 1990s, most notably in New York where mayor Rudy Giuliani and his police commissioner Howard Bratton set about making Manhattan’s streets safer.
But this style of operation also leads inevitably to police brutality. In New York, complaints about police brutality skyrocketed after the introduction of aggressive operations along the lines of the proposed Operation Unite. This is because police chiefs, working hand in glove with selected media outlets, provide front-line officers with the message that they should do what it takes to clean up the streets.
The problem, of course, with Operation Unite is that it is a quick fix and will do nothing to reduce street violence. It is a one-hit wonder in which some people will be charged with offences, other people will suffer physical and psychological damage as a result of overly aggressive police actions, and News Limited will have a field day running mug shots of police officers holding arrested individuals in a headlock.
Meanwhile, the root causes of street violence, which are myriad, remain unaddressed. In fact, come to think of it, if News Limited is so concerned about street violence then perhaps it may like to examine its own reporting of the issue and consider running stories that address the root causes of this form of social ill.