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KS4 Citizenship: Which Side Are You On? (1984)

A controversial documentary allows discussion of the media in society

Main image of KS4 Citizenship: Which Side Are You On? (1984)
Author Poppy Simpson, BFI
TopicMedia and society
Curriculum linksNC KS4 Citizenship - Knowledge and understanding about becoming informed citizens

Ken Loach's anthology of striking miners' songs and poems inspired by the miners' strike of 1984.

Which Side Are You On? was originally commissioned to air as part of the Arts programme The South Bank Show, but ITV decided not to air the programme due to its "highly partial view on a controversial subject". The film eventually aired on C4 in 1985, and the channel made sure that a 'balancing' programme was shown a few days later, which showed an alternative view of the miner's strike. As such, this extract offers a starting point for considering the media's role in society in providing information and affecting opinion.

There is some background swearing at the start of the selected extract, so please ensure that you watch it before using this exercise with a class to ensure it is appropriate for your students.



Before showing the extract Which side are you on?, you will need to give students some basic background information about the miner's strike - namely that it began in opposition to the Conservative governments decision to close a number of mines, lasted almost a year and became a symbolic struggle between the trade unions and the government (the National Union of Mineworkders was one of the strongest unions in the country). Students should also be aware that relations between the police and the striking miners was particularly poor and the strike flared into violence on a number of occasions.

Watch the extract through as a class. What can students learn/infer from the extract? How would they describe the tone of the extract (which side does the filmmaker appear to be on?)

After discussing students' initial thoughts, explain that the film was not shown by ITV who thought it was too 'partial'. Why do students think that ITV would be worried about showing the film? Compile a list of reasons on the board and challenge students to prioritise them in terms of significance. Having done this, ask students to consider the role of TV in representing political events and situations. You might want to give them some pointers:

  • What is the role of the news?
  • How do programmes like Which Side Are you On? different from the news?
  • How good are audiences at picking up bias or prejudice in the media?

After discussing these questions, ask the class to vote on whether they agree with ITV's decision to not air the film


Some more ideas

Ken Loach, the director of this film, has said that he does not believe that documentary can ever be neutral or 'balanced' (and nor can the news). Do students agree?

Video Clips
4. 'Which Side Are You On?' (3:38)

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Which Side Are You On? (1984)Which Side Are You On? (1984)

Read more about this programme

See also