Occupy London supporters have called for "calm and responsible reporting" after a sensationalist London Evening Standard story associating them with drug use and the spreading of infection.
On 23 November 2011 the free paper, which is distributed across the capital and the south east of England, ran a front page story entitled 'Needle bins at St Paul’s camp to beat junkie health hazard' which OLSX says oversteps the mark in terms of critical and investigative reporting.
The group has responded with a full, open statement - and has invited media personnel and reporters to meet and talk with the OLSX welfare team, which is offering support to vulnerable members of society who have seen the camp outside St Paul's Catherdral as a place of refuge.
The full OLSX statement, issued on 24 November, reads as follows:
"We have never sought to hide the fact that some of the more vulnerable members of our society have sought solace at our camps, not so much for the food and shelter we provide as for the sense of community we have established in contrast to their experience in wider society.
"Feeding prejudice and victimising vulnerable members of our society, as the tone and placement of this article did, is not a hallmark of quality journalism. To invoke the spectre of an AIDS scare on the basis of unsubstantiated speculation is as unprofessional as it is inappropriate, coming as it does just a few days before World AIDS Day on 1st December.
"Many of these vulnerable groups who have been included in press reporting – including the homeless, those with mental heath issues, drug and alcohol addictions, those living with HIV and others – are already being victimised by the government via cuts to vital services. Reporting of this nature only serves to stigmatise people that are part of our society, however much discomfort that fact may cause to some.
"To see the Evening Standard perpetuating this social division is particularly puzzling in light of their ‘dispossessed’ campaign. Occupy London wonders what it might be that makes some of the dispossessed more deserving of sympathy than others.
"Occupy London is a place where everyone is valued for what they contribute to our society and everyone is encouraged to participate in that society to the best of their ability. We are very clear about the standards we expect but we are, above all, inclusive. That is something to be proud of.
"Some of those who have come to join us at Occupy London bring their pre-existing problems with them. While we freely admit that some of these problems are beyond our capability to solve, we owe it to all members of our community to do what we can and not abandon those who seek refuge with us.
"We are proud that campers and supporters at Occupy London have been proactive in dealing with potentially challenging situations. A responsible approach to reporting what happens in our community needs to recognise the difficulty of some of the situations facing us, as well as the efforts we are making to ameliorate those situations – efforts which are greater in many instances than those of the bodies which have the statutory duty to do so.
"The less responsible approach to reporting these difficult situations is to condemn those in our society who are least able to exercise their right of reply. Not only does this badly misrepresent the actual prevalence of addiction and mental health issues in the vicinity of the London Stock Exchange, we are not even sure it makes for good copy.
"While we understand the imperatives of the news cycle, we would like to renew our call for calm and responsible reporting. We ask that the media give everyone involved in the camp fair representation. We are not the only ones to have recognised this need, as when the London Central Branch of the National Union of Journalists recently came out in support of Occupy London, it stated that ‘Fox News-style coverage is not acceptable in Britain’ as well as reminding its members to push for fair and accurate reporting.
"To reiterate: we are not afraid of difficult questions – in fact that, in a fundamental sense, is what we’re about. Occupy London is a diverse group of Londoners and supporters who have come together to open up a space for dialogue challenging social and economic inequality in the fight for global democracy. Therefore it is important that we address the allegations and issues that have been raised in the media in relation to the City of London Corporation legal papers in a full and open manner."
* More on OLSX: http://occupylondon.org.uk/
* Occupy movement reporting and analysis from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/occupy