NUJ vows journalists won’t be scared off by ‘outrageous’ Britain First threats against media

Threats: The NUJ urged members to record evidence of intimidationThreats: The NUJ urged members to record evidence of intimidation

The NUJ has described a pledge from far-right group Britain First to carry out ‘direct action operations’ against journalists as “outrageous”.

The union spoke out after Britain First issued a press release threatening consequences for journalists and media organisations it perceives to have been “caught lying”. The group, which styles itself as a ‘street defence force’, said actions would be “legal and non-violent” but “personal” and would take place offline. The group refused to elaborate on what that meant when asked by The Drum.

Tim Lezard, NUJ National Executive Council member and former president of the union, told The Drum: “It’s an outrageous attempt to scare journalists into not doing their jobs properly. Britain First says that they’re a non-violent organisation but threaten our members because they’ve written something they disagree with.

“The NUJ will always stand up for a free press because asking the right questions is an important part of a democratic process. Journalists won’t be scared off by a street gang of thugs.”

In a statement, NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said the union would take the matter up with the Home Office and police.

Britain First’s comments came ahead of the broadcast of a Channel 4 News piece, “Britain First: inside the extremist group targeting mosques.” The broadcaster’s report sourced comment and information from anti-extremist campaign group Hope Not Hate, which has journalists and researchers on its staff.

Matthew Collins, a Hope Not Hate researcher who authored a book about his own experience of being part of the BNP and National Front before becoming an opposition voice, told The Drum that the organisation operated under “constant” threats from Britain First.

“We get them all the time,” he said. “They ring our offices constantly issuing threats, telling us to be careful walking down streets, things like that.

“We don’t usually air them because we think it just encourages them, but we do take steps to safeguard our organisation and we’re very cautious about giving out information.

“We do take it seriously. Our main concern is that our journalists are just doing their jobs, reporting on a matter that is of interest, who may find themselves the targets of these people simply for doing their jobs.”

Collins added that Hope Not Hate’s experience was that police would not take pre-emptive action against general threats to intimidate or harass, but vowed the organisation would exhaust legal routes should any members be targeted.

“If we are attacked we will call the police and we will exhaust every avenue,” he said. “If any of our members are injured or intimidated we will exhaust every avenue available to us to bring the perpetrators to justice, and I’m pretty sure that every other media organisation will have the same plan.”

The Drum approached Britain First to find out more about what any ‘direct action operations’ would involve. Britain First administration manager John Wilson said: “You’ll just need to wait and see, won’t you? It’s operational, you don’t tell your enemy what you’re going to do to them.”

Wilson added that the group “will always remain within the law”, and said it had chosen a policy of targeting journalists directly because it was too expensive to go through the courts.

When asked what the group hoped to achieve with its policy, Wilson said: “To let people know a very simple message, which is a simple message in nature and in life in general: everything you do has a consequence.

“It’s not the paper who put those lies there, it was an individual human being. It has to be realised that choice will come with consequences because we will not put up with that shit anymore.”

The NUJ advised journalists working on stories concerning Britain First to keep their details private and contact the police immediately if they are targeted.

“This is a step up from online abuse,” Lezard said. “That’s bad enough, but this is a step beyond that. It’s physically intimidating and a naked threat.

“Journalists should make sure their personal details are kept safe and private. They should also keep a note of any suspicious people concerning them, record as much evidence as they can and take photographs where possible. The NUJ will do all it can.”

From The Drum 19.06.14



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