I am the secretary of the National Union of Journalists parliamentary group, and on behalf of the NUJ, I wish to refer to the particular vulnerability of journalists, and the unprecedented virulence and level of the abuse, threats and harassment that takes place online. Even after the experience of a tsunami of abuse in recent years, the violent, threatening nature of abuse can still shock and cause real fears.
Let me cite two examples. Patricia Devlin, an award-winning crime reporter who works for the Sunday World newspaper, received a threat by direct message to her personal Facebook account. The sender threatened to rape her newborn son. It was signed with the name of the neo-Nazi terror group Combat 18, which has in the past had links to loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland.
It is not just journalists who work for national media outlets who are targeted. The political editor of the Liverpool Echo, Liam Thorp, has exposed the scale of threats against and abuse of journalists working in the regional media. A perpetrator was jailed for two and a half years over death threats made to Liam and another Echo employee.
The NUJ has broadly welcomed the “National Action Plan for the Safety of Journalists” that the Government published this month, which stated:
“That there is a problem is undeniable. Too many journalists currently working in the UK do not feel safe from threats, abuse and physical harm”.
The words of Reporters Without Borders are cited in the plan:
“Harassing journalists has never been as easy as it is now.”
The NUJ will work with the Government and other partners on this issue to ensure the safety of journalists and that the strategy is implemented swiftly.
The cornerstones of any strategy to ensure that we have thriving, high-quality national and local journalism to uphold our democracy have to be not only firm legislative protections but a fully resourced independent media. An effective online safety Bill will be a critical component, but so will the securing of a stable future funding source for quality journalism. That is why the NUJ has thrown itself into the debate about not only the contents of the new legislation but the new funding opportunities to secure for the long term the quality journalism that is so critical to upholding our sense of community and our current democratic system.