NUJ joins forces with newspapers and politicians to stand up for press freedom in Northern Ireland

The NUJ has joined forces with the publishers of three Belfast-based newspapers to stand up for journalists and press freedom in Northern Ireland.

You can sign the petition calling for a halt to the death threats against Northern Ireland journalists here.

A public statement, below, has today been published in the Belfast Telegraph, Irish News and News Letter and has been endorsed by political, trade union, industry, community and religious leaders.

Over the past 12 months we have witnessed with alarm an increase in the number of violent threats against journalists in Northern Ireland.

“This month Loyalist paramilitaries have threatened all journalists working at the Sunday Life and Sunday World newspapers in Belfast. This follows recent threats against a journalist working for The Irish News.

“Attempts to intimidate journalists have come from dissident Republican and Loyalist paramilitary groups and are intended to prevent the media from investigating their activities and exposing criminality.

“Threats against journalists and media organisations have no place in our society. It is vital that such behaviour is not tolerated. No worker should be exposed to threats for doing their job.

“At a time when the media is playing such an important role in covering the terrible Covid-19 pandemic the recent, blanket threat is especially worrying.

“Elected politicians who criticised the threats have now become the subject of intimidation from groups without any mandate.

“Attempts have been made to silence public representatives for defending the right to freedom of expression.

“Public support has sustained journalists during the dark days of the past.

“Today we assert the right of our communities to be informed by journalists operating without fear or intimidation.

“It is the function of the media to ask difficult questions, to speak truth to power, to expose corruption, to shine a light into dark corners.

“Journalists in Northern Ireland will continue to do so.

“A free, independent media is a cornerstone of democracy.

“No group can be allowed to undermine the freedom of the press. Every effort must be made to ensure that those who are guilty of intimidation are brought to justice.

“We call for the immediate withdrawal of all threats against journalists in Northern Ireland and for the freedom of the press to be respected and protected.”

The statement’s signatories include the first minister Arlene Foster, the deputy first minster Michelle O’Neill and the majority of MLAs from the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Oliver Dowden, the UK’s secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport; and Brandon Lewis, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland have both signed the statement.

The Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Institute of Directors, the NI Council for Voluntary Action, UK Trade Union Congress and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions have also offered their support.

International organisations such as the World Association of News Publishers, the International Federation of Journalists and the International Trade Union Confederation have also backed the union’s calls.

This unprecedented joint initiative aims to highlight and challenge the increasing number of threats of violence inflicted on the media.

Under the banner “Stand Up for Journalism” the public statement strongly asserts the right of journalists to work without threats, intimidation or harassment.

NUJ assistant general secretary Séamus Dooley said: “In the past the trade union movement took to the streets in protest against the threats to workers. In the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves today, we rely on newspapers to highlight the threats to journalists.

“By working with the publishers and our members affected, we have been able to secure the support of a cross-section of society in Northern Ireland. We warmly welcome the strong stand taken by political and community leaders and look forward to a renewed drive to ensure journalists can safely carry out their work on behalf of the public.”

Sunday Life editor Martin Breen said: “Enough is enough. Some 26 years after the ceasefires terrorist organisations from both the loyalist and republican side are continuing to threaten journalists on an ongoing basis because we have been exposing their dirty deeds and criminal empires.

“We all have to stand up against these vile threats as their sole aim is to silence investigative journalism and curtail the public’s right to know about those gangsters operating in their communities across Northern Ireland. We hold everyone to account and will continue to expose criminality and all wrongdoing no matter where it originates.”

Sunday World editor Brian Farrell said: “The recent threats issued to our journalists only serves to highlight the risk and importance of exposing the criminal menace that plagues our society. We will not be silenced nor intimidated and will not rest until those responsible are brought to justice.”

Irish News editor Noel Doran said: “The increase in the number of serious threats against Belfast-based journalists is a deeply alarming development, so the significant level of support behind today’s initiative is heartening. It sends out a strong message that all the attempts at intimidation will have no effect on our coverage, that the perpetrators need to be robustly pursued by the authorities and that civil society is firmly behind freedom of the press.”

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