NUJ highlights growing number of far-right attacks on journalists | Media

NUJ highlights growing number of far-right attacks on journalists | Media

UK News

Journalists and camera crews are coming under attack on “an increased basis” from far-right activists, and police need to take a strategic approach to dealing with the growing problem, according to the head of the National Union of Journalists.

The union’s general secretary, Michelle Stanistreet, called on law enforcement agencies to do more to tackle what she described as a “coordinated surge in violent extremism against journalists and media workers” as British politics has become more polarised since the EU referendum.

NUJ officials met the Met police in March, calling for officers to intervene more proactively when journalists are harassed or attacked at demonstrations and other public events, but the union believes that there has been little improvement.

Over the weekend the Guardian columnist Owen Jones was attacked by a group of men outside a pub at 2am in central London when he was out celebrating his birthday. He believes he was targeted for his high-profile leftwing views.

Owen Jones​ on his​ attack: ‘I get headlines​. Many minorities don’t’ – video

There have been a string of other incidents in recent months. James Goddard, a notorious self-styled “yellow vest” activist, was convicted in June for the common assault of a photographer, Joel Goodman, in Manchester in February.

At one point Goddard had told the photographer: “When there’s no police around here, I’m going to take your head off your shoulders.”

Goodman, a photojournalist, told the Guardian that he had become a target for far-right demonstrators, after it was wrongly suggested he worked with the anti-fascist group Hope not Hate. Threats routinely arrive by “phone, email and text”, he said.

“Photographers have been bearing the brunt of this for some time – thank you for noticing us. It has undeniably got worse, and although I’m loth to say it, Brexit emboldened a lot of hostile attitudes,” Goodman added.

Goddard first came to public attention after he was filmed abusing the anti-Brexit MP Anna Soubry, calling her a Nazi and traitor, chasing her down the street just a few yards from parliament.

After pleading guilty to harassing her in July, Goddard was filmed emerging from court promising that journalists who had written “hit pieces about me” would get “protested against” and that such reporters were “traitors to this country”.

Journalists covering Tommy Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, complained of intimidation from his followers during his contempt of court trial in the early summer.

At one point during the hearings a BBC camera crew outside the Old Bailey in central London were attacked and forced to leave by Robinson supporters, who branded them “BBC paedo scum”, and “fake news wankers”.

Dominic Casciani, the BBC’s home affairs correspondent, wrote last month: “At every hearing in this saga, journalists have been abused. People have been spat at, had cameras attacked. A cameraman was punched. Today it was beer can throwing. Lies have been told about us, our reports and events in court.”

It is understood that broadcasters including the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV were forced to hire private security firms to protect their journalists during Robinson’s court appearance last month.

In June, the BBC, ITN and Sky wrote to the City of London police and HM Courts & Tribunals Service highlighting the intimidation journalists had faced covering Robinson’s legal proceedings in May outside the Old Bailey. That case has prompted wider concern about safety and security in courts during such trials.

The letter said: “Whilst some of that was of a level journalists might expect at a demonstration in support of a controversial figure, a significant amount of the abuse went well beyond that … it became impossible to do any live, contemporaneous reporting on the hearing because our reporters were deliberately drowned out by Mr Robinson’s supporters whenever they tried to go on air.”

Rebecca Camber, chair of the Crime Reporters Association, said the organisation had “made representations to HMCTS following a number of alarming incidents in court hearings where journalists have been subject to intimidation and threats both inside and outside the courtroom”.

Online abuse directed at some journalists has become common in far right circles, with Jones one of several targets. Although some is visible on Facebook and Twitter, efforts to police standards appear to have simply driven the most vicious discussions elsewhere.

The “Tommy Robinson News” encrypted Telegram Messenger account – which has more than 50,000 subscribers – is one place where vitriolic criticisms are aired frequently. Posters routinely accuse Jones of “treachery” and threaten violence.

Vitriol is also directed against a female journalist who has covered the far-right leader’s activities.

The account, which regularly posted self-shot videos of Robinson addressing his supporters before he was jailed for contempt of court last month, is understood to have been run by the far-right activist and his inner circle.

Jason Parkinson, a freelance cameraman who routinely covers far-right demonstrations and events, says that while there has always been anti-media aggression among the far right, the number of those prepared to act has grown.

“There’s been a change in mood; the numbers of people prepared to be angry or aggressive have increased. It started when Donald Trump began talking about fake news, and it has worsened as Brexit has gone on,” he said.

Law enforcement agencies have gradually become more concerned about the activities of the far right, with the security service MI5 taking the lead in combating extreme rightwing terrorism from October last year. Five terror plots by far-right figures have been disrupted since the spring of 2017, Whitehall sources said.

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