NUJ vows to renew efforts to defend press freedom

  • 02 May 2021

On World Press Freedom Day on Monday 3 May, the NUJ has stressed the need for renewed, collective effort to defend and protect media freedom at home and abroad.

During the last year, press freedom has been put under huge strain as journalists continue to work on the front-line to deliver news and information to the public.

In Turkey, Belarus, India, Myanmar and China, journalists have been jailed and face brutal crackdowns on their right to report. In other countries, including the UK, there have been harmful legislative measures imposed alongside an increasing number of threats to journalists' safety.

The government's Overseas Operations Bill is the latest attempt to let the powerful hide from accountability and the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill also poses a substantial threat to public interest journalism and media freedom.

An extensive legislative framework has been introduced that enables the state to obstruct legitimate media reporting; this includes a lack of public interest defence for journalists in the existing Official Secrets Acts (1911, 1920 and 1989), insufficient media safeguards within the electronic surveillance legislation known as the Investigatory Powers Act (2016), and no media safeguards in the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act (2021).

Julian Assange may not have been extradited this year but the ruling in his case leaves open the possibility for the US government to pursue journalists and publishers around the world if their reporting annoys the Washington establishment. That Assange remains in prison pending the US appeal against this decision underlines the grievous threat to unfettered journalism that this US legislation poses.

In addition to the legislative framework, journalists are increasingly working in what amounts to a hostile environment, with incidents of both on and offline abuse and harassment on the rise. The union has dealt with multiple attempts to prevent NUJ members working and reporting during the last year. Journalists have been targeted with death threats and rape threats and some members have been physically assaulted.

According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) 2,658 media workers have been killed globally in the last thirty years - about two journalists or media workers are dying every week - even before the coronavirus pandemic. The Press Emblem Campaign has estimated that at least 1,060 media workers have died from covid-19 since 1 March 2020.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"On World Press Freedom Day we don't just mark the occasion with words but renew our efforts to fight for journalists and journalism that is free from interference or threats of any kind.

"As well as the intense campaigns and lobbying we have carried out over the last year, we have tried at every step to support all of our members who have confronted attempts to curtail their right to report.

"As a trade union, the NUJ is in a unique position to bring journalists together and to press for progressive change. The last 12 months have involved a colossal collective effort in an increasingly difficult environment for our members and media workers around the world. We pledge to step up that work in the year ahead."

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