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Northern Ireland unites against threats to journalists

19 May 2020

The publishers of three Belfast-based newspapers and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) have joined together to stand up for journalists and press freedom in Northern Ireland.

This initiative has attracted local and global endorsement, involving many prominent individuals and organisations, all listed below.

The public statement appears in the Belfast Telegraph, Irish News and News Letter newspapers today (Wednesday 20 May 2020).

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

Add your name - Stop the rise in death threats against Northern Ireland journalists

Séamus Dooley, NUJ assistant general secretary, 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."

Martin Breen, Sunday Life editor, 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."

Brian Farrell, Sunday World editor, 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."

Noel Doran, Irish News editor, 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."

Owen Reidy, Irish Congress of Trade Unions assistant general secretary, said:

"Every worker has the right to go to work and come home from a day’s work free from intimidation, fear or threat to them and their families. It is a value the trade union hold dear and will defend completely. Any functioning normal society has certain values and part of that is people going about their business without intimidation and fear of their lives."

Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland first minister, said:

"The recent paramilitary threats targeting journalists and politicians represent an assault upon our society and upon democracy. This cannot be tolerated. Previous generations put their lives on the line to protect free speech. We must continue to defend that freedom today."

Michelle O’Neill, Northern Ireland deputy first minister, said:

"Intimidation of journalists and those in public life must never be tolerated. These threats, and those behind them should be condemned by each and every one of us. The freedom of the press is of fundamental importance to our democracy and those who seek to attack that democracy have no place in our society.”

John Whittingdale, UK government minister for media and data, said:

"Journalism is a bedrock of democracy and those who are keeping our communities informed and holding the powerful to account must not be intimidated or threatened as they carry out their work. We stand with journalists and will do all we can to support them in doing their jobs without fear or favour."

Stand up for Journalism

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.

Supported by –

Add your name - Stop the rise in death threats against Northern Ireland journalists

Northern Ireland media

Martin Breen: Editor, Sunday Life
Eoin Brannigan: incoming Editor in Chief, Belfast Telegraph and Sunday Life
Brian Farrell: Editor, Sunday World
Noel Doran: Editor, Irish News
Alistair Bushe: Editor, News Letter
Anthony Neeson: Editor, Andersonstown News
Mark Conway: Editor, The Impartial Reporter

Peter Vandermeersch, Publisher, Independent News and Media, and Belfast Telegraph
Edward McCann: Deputy Publisher, Independent News and Media
Sarah Little: Publishing Director, Independent News and Media

National Union of Journalists, UK and Ireland

Michelle Stanistreet: General Secretary
Seamus Dooley: Assistant General Secretary
Sian Jones: NUJ President
Bernie Mullen: Irish Executive Council
Bimpe Archer: Irish Executive Council
Gerry Carson: Irish Executive Council
Kathryn Johnson: Irish Executive Council
Anton McCabe: National Executive Council
Ciarán O Maoláin: National Executive Council

Media organisations

WAN: IFRA (World Association of News Publishers)
World Editors Forum
Anthony Bellanger: General Secretary, International Federation of Journalists
Younes M’Jahed: President, International Federation of Journalists
Ian Murray: Executive Director, UK Society of Editors

Members of the Legislative Assembly Northern Ireland (MLAs)

Arlene Foster: Fermanagh and South Tyrone, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and First Minister of Northern Ireland
Michelle O'Neill: Mid Ulster, Sinn Féin, Deputy First Minister
Alex Maskey: Speaker, NI Assembly
Andrew Muir: North Down, Alliance Party
Andy Allen: East Belfast, Ulster Unionist Party
Caoimhe Archibald: East Derry, Sinn Féin
Carál Ní Chuilín: North Belfast, Sinn Féin
Cathal Boylan: Newry and Armagh, Sinn Féin  
Catherine Kelly: West Tyrone, Sinn Féin  
Chris Lyttle: East Belfast, Alliance Party
Colin McGrath: South Down, Social Democratic and Labour Party
Colm Gildernew: Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Sinn Féin
Conor Murphy: Newry and Armagh, Sinn Féin
David Hilditch: East Antrim, Democratic Unionist Party
Declan McAleer: West Tyrone, Sinn Féin  
Declan Kearney: South Antrim, Sinn Féin
Deirdre Hargey: South Belfast, Sinn Féin  
Diane Dodds: Upper Bann, Democratic Unionist Party
Doug Beattie: Upper Bann, Ulster Unionist Party
Emma Rogan: South Down, Sinn Féin
Emma Sheerin: Mid Ulster, Sinn Féin
Fra McCann: West Belfast, Sinn Féin
Gary Middleton: Foyle, Democratic Unionist Party
Gerry Carroll: West Belfast, People Before Profit
Gerry Kelly: North Belfast, Sinn Féin
Gordon Lyons: East Antrim, Democratic Unionist Party
Jemma Dolan: Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Sinn Féin
Joanne Bunting: East Belfast, Democratic Unionist Party
John Blair: South Antrim, Alliance Party
John O'Dowd: Upper Bann, Sinn Féin
Karen Mullan: Foyle, Sinn Féin  
Keith Buchanan: Mid Ulster, Democratic Unionist Party
Kellie Armstrong: Strangford, Alliance Party
Linda Dillon: Mid Ulster, Sinn Féin
Liz Kimmins: Newry and Armagh, Sinn Féin  
Maolíosa McHugh: West Tyrone, Sinn Féin    
Mark H Durkan: Foyle, Social Democratic and Labour Party
Martina Anderson: Foyle, Sinn Féin
Maurice Bradley: East Londonderry, Democratic Unionist Party
Mike Nesbitt: Strangford, Ulster Unionist Party
Naomi Long: East Belfast and leader of the Alliance Party
Órlaithí Flynn: West Belfast, Sinn Féin  
Pam Cameron: South Antrim, Democratic Unionist Party
Pat Sheehan: West Belfast, Sinn Féin
Paul Frew: North Antrim, Democratic Unionist Party
Paula Bradley: North Belfast, Democratic Unionist Party
Paula Bradshaw: South Belfast, Alliance Party
Peter Weir: Strangford, Democratic Unionist Party
Philip McGuigan: North Antrim, Sinn Féin
Robbie Butler: Lagan Valley, Ulster Unionist Party
Rosemary Barton: Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Ulster Unionist Party
Roy Beggs: East Antrim, Ulster Unionist Party
Sean Lynch: Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Sinn Féin
Sinéad Ennis: South Down, Sinn Féin
Steve Aiken: South Antrim, and leader of the Ulster Unionist Party
Stewart Dickson: East Antrim, Alliance Party
William Humphrey: North Belfast, Democratic Unionist Party
William Irwin: Newry and Armagh, Democratic Unionist Party

Members of Parliament (MPs)

Oliver Dowden: Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Brandon Lewis: Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Louise Haigh: Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Chris Hazzard: South Down, Sinn Féin
Claire Hanna: Belfast South, Social Democratic and Labour Party
Colum Eastwood: Foyle, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party
Francie Molloy: Mid Ulster, Sinn Féin
Jeffrey Donaldson: Lagan Valley, parliamentary leader of Democratic Unionist Part
John Finucane: Belfast North, Sinn Féin
Michelle Gildernew: Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Sinn Féin  
Micky Brady: Newry and Armagh, Sinn Féin
Órfhlaith Begley: West Tyrone, Sinn Féin
Paul Maskey: Belfast West, Sinn Féin
Stephen Farry: North Down, Alliance Party

House of Lords

Baroness Margaret Ritchie of Downpatrick: Non-affiliated
Baroness May Blood: Retired
Baron Empey: Ulster Unionist Party
Baron Kilclooney: Non-affiliated
Baron Rogan: Ulster Unionist Party
Lord Hay of Ballyore: Democratic Unionist Party Life peer

Seanad Éireann

Senator Niall Ó Donnaghaile, Sinn Féin
Senator Elisha McCallion, Sinn Féin

Trade union, industry and civic society representatives

North Down and Ards Council of Trade Unions
Belfast and District Trades Union Council
Ballymena and Antrim Trades Union Council
Craigavon Trades Union Council
Derry Trades Union Council
Fermanagh Trades Council
Omagh and District Trades Union Council
Mid Ulster Trade Union Council

Patricia King: General Secretary, Irish Congress of Trade Unions
Owen Reidy: Assistant General Secretary, Irish Congress of Trade Unions
Gerry Murphy: President, ICTU, Northern Ireland Secretary, INTO
Frances O’Grady: Trade Union Congress
Sharan Burrow: General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation
Esther Lynch: Deputy General Secretary, European Trade Union Confederation

Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union
Communications Workers Union
Financial Services Union
Fire Brigades Union
Prison Officers Association
Royal College of Midwives
Ulster Teachers Union
UNISON, Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Institute of Directors, Northern Ireland
Manufacturing Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action

Brian Gormally: Director, Committee on the Administration of Justice
Les Allamby: Chief Commissioner, Human Rights Commission Northern Ireland
Patrick Corrigan: Northern Ireland Programme Director, Amnesty International

Belfast Jewish Community Council
Rev Chris Hudson: Moderator of the non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland
Rev Harold Good
Fr Martin Magill PP: St John's Parish, Belfast
Archbishop Eamon Martin
Dr Wasif Naeem: Chair, Belfast Islamic Centre
Rev Dr William Henry: Moderator of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church in Ireland
Adam Patterson: Screenwriter
Clare Allen: Author and journalist
Declan Lawn: Screenwriter
Cllr Eamon McCann: Journalist
Felicity McCall: Author and journalist
J. B. Vallely: Artist and musician
Julieann Campbell: Author and journalist
Nichola McKee Corner
Sara Canning
Trevor Ringland MBE


The NUJ has launched a public petition of the statement for all supporters to sign.

Add your name - Stop the rise in death threats against Northern Ireland journalists

Since the Stand up for Journalism initiative was launched, it has been warmly welcomed and endorsed by many more supporters including -

Trade union leaders: Dominique Pradalié, general secretary of the French journalists' union SNJ and Ricardo Gutierrez, general secretary of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ).

The largest public service union in Ireland, FORSA, has pledged their support as have the Journalists' Union of Athens Daily Newspaper (JUADN).

Members of parliament: Jo Stevens, Labour's shadow secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport; and Chris Matheson, Labour's shadow minister for digital, culture, media and sport have supported the campaign. Other politicians include Rob Butler, Conservative MP for Aylesbury and Lord Hay of Ballyore, Democratic Unionist Party life peer.

NGOs and civic society leaders have also backed the initiative including Rebecca Vincent, UK bureau director of Reporters Without Borders and Ian Marshall, former president of the Ulster Farmer’s Union.

Tags: , northern ireland, journalist safety, belfast telegraph, irish news, news letter, belfast, journalists in the uk, journalists intimidated, threats