UK publishes National Action Plan to protect journalists from threats, attacks

London, Mar 9 (PTI) The UK government on Tuesday published the country’s first National Action Plan to protect journalists from abuse and harassment.

The plan includes measures for further research into the problem of threats of violence and intimidation faced by journalists in the course of their work as well as training for police forces and journalists.

It follows reports to the government from journalists who have suffered attacks while going about their work, including being punched, threatened with knives, forcibly detained and subjected to rape and death threats.

Freedom of speech and a free press are at the very core of our democracy, and journalists must be able to go about their work without being threatened, said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The cowardly attacks and abuse directed at reporters for simply doing their job cannot continue. This action plan is just the start of our work to protect those keeping the public informed, and defend those holding the government to account, he said.

A survey of members of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) in November 2020 found more than half of respondents had experienced online abuse while nearly a quarter had been physically assaulted or attacked.

The new plan is aimed at increasing awareness of the safety challenges faced by journalists operating in the UK and introducing measures to tackle them in a joint effort by law enforcement, broadcasters, publishers, industry bodies, unions and the government.

Attacks on journalists are not only horrendous for those individuals but an assault on our democracy. Today’s action plan will make sure journalists can go about their vital work without fear, said UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden.

But just as we protect the physical safety of journalists, we must protect their freedom to write and report too. Tackling worrying trends on online censorship of journalistic content and controversial views, we will ensure our forthcoming online safety laws build in robust protections for journalism, he said.

Measures include new training for police officers as well as aspiring and existing journalists, and commitments from social media platforms and prosecution services to take tough action against abusers including responding promptly to complaints of threats to journalists’ safety.

We will not tolerate a world where journalists are silenced through fear or censorship and want the UK to set an international example for the respect, treatment and protection of those working in the field. This plan is the first step towards achieving those aims, said John Whittingdale, UK Minister for Media and Data and Chair of the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists, membership of which comprises industry stakeholders including the NUJ and Society of Editors.

Under some of the cross-organisational steps, every police force is to be given access to a designated journalist safety liaison officer and publishers and broadcasters have committed to providing new training for staff and freelancers on managing threats.

The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) says it will use its global network, including its co-chairship of the Media Freedom Coalition, to share insights and strategies on the protection of journalists, with the aim of strengthening approaches in other countries.

The Action Plan recognises the urgency of protecting journalists carrying out their vital role in protecting democracy. Due to their role in holding the powerful and those in authority to task journalists attract strong reactions. But this should not manifest itself in ways that threaten journalists and their families. This action plan makes that clear, said Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors.

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet added: Attacks on journalists are designed to silence and intimidate those who work to uphold the public’s right to know. NUJ members have shared horrific experiences of being attacked, abused and threatened on and offline simply for doing their job.

It’s clear that reported incidents are the tip of the iceberg and that harassment and abuse has become normalised. This action plan, with its range of practical measures and protections, is an important step towards changing that and ensuring journalists can get on with their vital work free from harassment or intimidation.