Northern Ireland unites against threats to journalists

  • 19 May 2020

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

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

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

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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."

Text of the public statement:

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

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
  • GMB
  • PCS
  • POA
  • Prospect/BECTU
  • Royal College of Midwives
  • Ulster Teachers Union
  • UNISON, Northern Ireland
  • Unite
  • 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

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.

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