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POLICE have been criticised for failing to act in response to an attack on a BBC journalist by anti-lockdown protesters today.
Newsnight political editor Nick Watt was chased and verbally abused by protesters while covering a demonstration against the extension of lockdown restrictions outside Downing Street.
Footage of the incident showed protesters shouting “scum” and “traitor” in Mr Watt’s face as he fled through the crowd towards a line of police officers.
The incident has been widely condemned, including by the BBC, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Labour.
“All journalists should be able to carry out their work without intimidation or impediment,” the BBC said.
Labour’s shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens said: “This extremely disturbing footage showing clear intimidation of a journalist while carrying out his job is absolutely unacceptable and should be condemned in the strongest terms.
“It is shocking that a BBC lanyard makes someone a target like this.”
Journalists’ union the NUJ has raised concerns about the apparent lack of reaction by police to the incident: officers can be seen in the footage standing in the distance while Mr Watt is aggressively harassed.
The union’s general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “The hounding and abuse levelled at Newsnight’s Nick Watt outside Downing Street today by anti-lockdown protesters was frightening and outrageous.
“It is genuinely shocking that a man escaping a mob screaming at him, shouting traitor and calling him scum, didn’t result in the police immediately intervening.
“Action should be taken against these thugs. No-one should have to tolerate such abusive behaviour and harassment simply for doing their job.”
Ms Stanistreet said the union had raised the incident with London’s Metropolitan force and asked it to review officers’ response.
Ms Patel described the abuse faced by Mr Watt as “appalling and distressing.”
Earlier this year the government launched a national plan aimed at protecting journalists from abuse and harassment.
An NUJ survey in November found that more than half of respondents had been subjected to online abuse while almost a quarter had been physically attacked or assaulted.
Responding to the video, the Met said it had launched an investigation into the incident, adding the behaviour was “not acceptable.”
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