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NUJ statement on attacks on press during riots by Trump supporters

© marcos henson

8 January 2021

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “We have all been stunned and shocked by the photographs and film and video footage of the Trump supporter rioters and their attack on the Capitol. We saw doors and windows smashed and offices trashed as the supporters of the president – spurred on by his inflammatory speech at a rally in Washington – attempted to subvert the democratic transition of power to Biden. These pictures were brought to our screens and newspapers by journalists who put themselves at great personal risk as the mob turned on them and their equipment. Video pictures captured the rioters jumping on and pouring water on Associated Press cameras and equipment after the crew had been threatened. Murder the Media was scrawled on a door by the thugs who so easily breached police lines to enter the inner sanctum of American democracy. Because, of course, they have all been told by Trump that journalists are the enemy of the people and that made the reporters, all just doing their jobs, a legitimate target in their eyes. That is why the NUJ extends solidarity to our sister unions representing the American press and all those journalists from across the globe who were capturing the violent events as they unfolded and to all the correspondents putting the events into a political context. We support the calls by US journalist union leaders for ‘immediate action to stabilise and support the core base of our democracy: a free press informing the electorate’.

“This attack on the democratic process in America – constantly undermined by the increasingly crazed messages and false accusation of electoral fraud in Trump’s social media feeds – has also been an assault on the media. Most worryingly, according to reports, it was the press who were being apprehended and briefly detained by the police as they reported the drama in Washington.

“A functioning democracy needs a strong, independent and plural press. From day one of his presidency, Trump was allowed to peddle his lies, racism and ‘alternative facts’ constantly traducing the “lamestream press”, lambasting news organisations such as CNN and crying fake news to any report which challenged him. He was of course supported by parts of the media, with Fox News becoming his fawning mouthpiece, until it recently distanced itself from Trump after the election – no doubt because Murdoch doesn’t back losers. Twitter and Facebook were for four years happy to provide a platform for his 4am capital letter rants and his everyday mendacity and poison. It’s all a bit late to try to achieve some sort of moral high ground by blocking him now. Is that what it takes to get booted off Facebook – inciting a riot and trashing of the Capitol?

“The destruction of the press – particularly the local press in the States – has left a dangerous vacuum for trusted information and news and the conspiracy theorists and extremists have moved in. Some 4,000 journalist jobs have gone in the past decade and the lack of a robust local press has unmoored citizens from their local democratic institutions; research has shown this has led to a loosening of community cohesion. This makes it ripe territory for populist demagogues to step in with simple slogans and fear mongering. It was easy to demonise and pin the blame on the ills of the world on the Muslims, the Mexicans and the political elite. It was easy for him to demonise the press and shout fake news.

“This damaging and dangerous rhetoric is not restricted to the States. We’ve seen our own members demonised and impugned in the course of going about their work. We’ve witnessed briefings against so-called ‘campaigning newspapers’ and the tedious dismissal of stories politicians’ disagree with as fake news – a phrase that is then rehashed and dished-out as abuse at reporters. Our levels of public discourse are parlous, the consequences are escalating rates of abuse and harassment of journalists – both online and offline. This has to stop.

“The NUJ is working with the International Federation of Journalists and our sister trade unions to fight for press freedom and to ensure the safety of our members. Our News Recovery Plan puts forward a set of interventions, proposals and policies to safeguard the media and to reboot it so that it supports the public interest and serves democracy. Otherwise the mob will win.”

Tags: , riot, capitol, washington, united states, media freedom, journalist safety, journalists attacked, fake news, donald trump, broadcasting, photographers, reporters, local news matters, local newspapers, democracy, news recovery plan