Politicians urged to stop belittling journalism
Politicians can start helping local news by ceasing with flippant criticism of journalism in general, a House of Lords panel has been told.
Both Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors, and Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, urged politicians to back their commitment to a free media with vocal support for it.
Michelle also urged the government to set up a taskforce to investigate harassment of journalists, which has been
The Government has spent almost £40m on Coronavirus-related advertising with Britain’s main publishers, and cabinet ministers including Michael Gove, culture secretary Oliver Dowden and communities secretary Robert Jenrick have all spoke in glowing terms about the importance of local media.
However, comments from foreign secretary Dominic Raab and transport secretary Grant Shapps that ‘you shouldn’t always believe what you read in the press’ have enraged many journalists, while Downing Street initially tried to fob off the Dominic Cummings scandal as being the product of agenda-driven journalism.
Ian and Michelle were appearing before the House of Lords Communications and digital committee which is looking at what can be done to support journalism within public policy.
Committee member Baroness Buscombe, a former chair of the now-defunct Press Complaints Commission, said: “My question would be: Who would be a journalist? Even 10 years ago as chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, I remember treading carefully to try and encourage some way of protecting journalists from harassment, protecting the freedom of the press through, for example, asking isn’t it sensible that, on social media, people who write stuff should have to have their name attributed to it, just as they would in the press?
“The way that I was attacked was so appalling. It stays with you and so I kind of understand what appalling situation some of these journalists go through in trying to tell this story and trying to do it the right way and particularly harassment by social media. What more can we do?”
Ian replied: “I think we need more more like themselves and politicians to stop. Not particularly as individuals, of course, denigrating the mainstream media, denigrating journalists at all. ‘This is fake news’ or ‘You can’t just trust the press’ and so on.
“We’ve seen minor incidents of it during the COVID 19 outbreak with refusing to answer questions because ‘they’re just campaigning.’
“If we can have less knocking of the media and putting journalists into that position, that would to be progress.
“ I’m the last person to say that journalists are angels, but we should always say we respect the principle of the free media.”
Michelle told the committee she agreed with Ian — but called for wider action on harassment.
Michelle said: “There needs to be better political leadership on this.
“Politicians, people in prominent positions shouldn’t be adding to the problem and undermining journalism, or the ability for them [journalists] to carry out their work. That should be a given.
“We have seen a worrying escalation actually in recent weeks in terms of harassment and attacks on journalists both at home and abroad.
“In recent weeks that NUJ member and union rep Amy Fenton has had to move her daughter to a secret location. She endured more than 100 death threats and harassment online and offline, all in the course of her job as the chief reporter for Newsquest in South Cumbria. It was awful, appalling abuse and harassment.
“We’ve seen our members carrying out their jobs saying join the protest in recent days have been harassed by protesters and also some-heavy handed policing.
“Just last month, the NUJ spearheaded a joint industry wide response from politicians, editors and publishers to stand up and condemn the threats that were being made to newspaper the staff in Northern Ireland that were coming from dissident loyalist groups.
“There’s also been threats from Republican groups and that, I think, just brings home the kind of the range of different kind of challenges that lots of members are facing just in the course of doing their job.
“It’s particularly toxic on social media. I think that level of polarisation and toxic public discourse really up fuels those particular flames.
“Maybe there could be a task force set up to kind of look at this and to come up with better solutions and strategies for dealing with it.
“What’s happening here is also happening all around the world. It’s a different era but I think a joined up approach and a particular focus on this issue is definitely needed.”