Human Rights Day 2021

  • 10 Dec 2021

The NUJ condemns the "sheer quantity and malice of government attacks on human rights".

The NUJ is supporting a British Institute of Human Rights letter signed by community and civil rights organisations calling on the Prime Minister to take action to safeguard human rights and democratic accountability in the UK.

The letter is timed to coincide with President Biden’s Summit for Democracy, which Boris Johnson is expected to attend.  The summit brings together leaders from government, civil society, and the private sector to “set forth an affirmative agenda for democratic renewal and to tackle the greatest threats faced by democracies today through collective action”. December 10 is also the UN’s Human Rights Day and this year’s theme is “reducing inequalities, advancing human rights”.

The letter to the Prime Minister and political leaders states: “Here in the UK, rather than renewed commitment to upholding rights we face a hostile environment for human rights. Rather than addressing the inequalities fuelled and exacerbated by the pandemic, we are facing a political climate filled with threats to ‘overhaul’ the very protections we all need upheld. The loud calls to tamper with our Human Rights Act, by those with the very responsibility to uphold them, does little to reassure us, and the many people we support and represent.”

The NUJ is concerned that the ability of journalists to scrutinise and hold the government and public bodies to account is being eroded. A raft of proposed legislative changes are attacks on the rights of citizens and journalists, including reforms to the Official Secrets Acts which could see journalists being treated as spies for doing their job, the Police, Crime and Sentencing bill which places restrictions on demonstrations and protests and there is a threat to the use of judicial reviews.

Members have reported increasing difficulties accessing the information needed to scrutinise the work of government and public bodies, with Freedom of Information and subject access requests being obstructed and bodies such as the Advanced Research and Invention Agency being exempted from FOI requests.

The NUJ’s Ethic’s Council is deeply concerned that the Nationality and Borders Bill represents a huge danger to human rights. The Bill passed its thrid reading in the House of Commons by  298 votes to 231 this week.

Photographers have highlighted the release of carefully staged PR images of Cabinet members, while excluding news photographers, as being a dangerous attempt to control the image of government.

Professor Chris Frost, chair of the NUJ’s Ethics Councils, said:

"We are appalled by the sheer quantity and malice of government attacks on human rights from the cruelty of the Nationality and Borders Bill, with its recently added clause to remove citizenship, through to the Police Bill, with its attacks on protest, to the new Official Secrets Bill that will attempt to turn journalists and whistle-blowers into spies. The government's pretence to care about human rights is an outrage in a democracy with a proud history.”

Natasha Hirst, chair of the NUJ Equality Council said:

 “The UK Government is aggressively hacking away at our rights whilst having the audacity to preach to the rest of the world about the UK’s human rights and democratic record.  We should all be deeply concerned about attempts to evade accountability by obstructing journalists’ access to events and information. From FOI request rebuttals to glossy PR images replacing access for photojournalists, our ability to keep check on those in power is diminishing. This has a real and dangerous impact on people’s lives and freedoms.”

How the NUJ has supported journalists’ rights during 2021

  • Responded to the proposed reforms of the Official Secrets Acts.
  • Ongoing work with the DCMS and National Council for the Safety of Journalists, including developing a safety toolkit for journalists.
  • Evidence to the Online Harms Bill consultation and the general secretary gave evidence to the DCMS select committee.
  • Supporting the work of the IFJ in getting Afghan journalists to safety.
  • Exposing and challenging undue surveillance of journalists.
  • Contributing to an inquiry into the Cabinet Office’s FOI “clearing house”.
  • Work and training with the National Police Chiefs Council on the rights of journalists and photographers in public order situations.
  • Working with lawyer organisations and civil rights groups to combat SLAPPS, aggressive lawsuits used to threaten journalists.
  • Ongoing work with the International Professional Security Association to educate security officers on the role of journalists and the right to report.

How you can help us

  • Provide examples of instances where journalists have been denied access to events where government photographers have issued photos.
  • Provide examples of difficulties with gaining access to cover events and work of governments and public bodies in the UK and Ireland.
  • Inform us of difficulties or delays with FOI and subject access requests.

Please email [email protected]

Upcoming webinars – human rights and journalism

The NUJ will be hosting two human rights webinars for journalists in partnership with the British Institute of Human Rights in early 2022. One will provide a clear overview of the Human Rights Act, why it is important and how to identify and report confidently on human rights issues. Another will highlight legislative changes and proposals that will have an impact on press freedom and the ability of journalists to carry out their role.  Keep a look out for further details.

Return to listing