Government Publishes First Ever National Action Plan To Protect Journalists

The Government has published the UK’s first national action plan to protect journalists from abuse and harassment. 

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

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

The plan will increase awareness of the safety challenges faced by journalists operating in the UK and introduce measures to tackle them in a joint effort by law enforcement, broadcasters, publishers, industry bodies, unions and the Government.

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. 

The plan has been endorsed by the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists, membership of which comprises industry stakeholders including the News Media Association, National Union of Journalists and Society of Editors. 

It will be reviewed as necessary on an ongoing basis and supports the wider work the government is doing to uphold freedom of speech, in particular protecting journalistic content from censorship and takedown online. The Government is also publishing a broader update today on its ongoing work to tackle intimidation in public life.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “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.

“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.”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “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.

“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.”

Minister for Media and Data and chair of the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists, John Whittingdale, said: “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.”

The plan sets out a series of commitments from relevant organisations focused on protecting the safety of journalists based in the UK.

NMA chief executive David Newell said: “The coronavirus crisis has thrown a spotlight on the importance of trusted news and information yet abuse of journalists, often on social media, has risen markedly over the same period. 

“There can be no place in our democratic society for abuse and attacks on journalists, which constitute a threat to free speech, and the national action plan is a welcome development to help address this.”

Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors said: “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.”

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “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.”

Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s Communications Advisory Group, Chief Constable Gavin Stephens said:  “Journalists are a vital cog in a functioning society and deserve to be respected for the role they play in providing a public information service and holding authorities to account.

“Any restriction of those values severely impacts public confidence and trust both of which are core principles in policing and what drive the communities we serve to be safe and feel safe.

“I’m committed to raising awareness within policing of the long term damaging impact that targeting journalists can have and will be doing so through my new role. The impact of these crimes is not just on individuals and their welfare but also on press freedom itself, which has to be upheld and protected.”