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Press freedom campaigners slam 'chilling' threat to ban Extinction Rebellion

THE government has been hit with a media censorship warning amid reports it is seeking to criminalise Extinction Rebellion (XR) for the group’s “attack on free press.” 

Last week, the Ministry of Justice was issued a “media freedom alert” by the Council for Europe after its press officers blacklisted investigative journalists at Declassified UK.

The council, which monitors democracy in Europe, described the act as having a “chilling effect on media freedom.” 

Investigations by Declassified UK, a website which focuses on foreign and defence policy, has exposed the extent of Britain’s role in Saudia Arabia’s war on Yemen. 

It comes as reports emerged yesterday that the government was seeking to review the legal status of XR after activists blockaded printing presses on Friday night. 

The news, confirmed by the Press Association, could result in XR being reclassified as a “criminal organisation.” 

PM Boris Johnson slammed the activists’ stunt which delayed the deliveries of major right-wing titles including the Rupert Murdoch-owned The Sun and The Times as “completely unacceptable,” while Home Secretary Priti Patel described it as an “attack on free press.”

However, the climate activists — 26 of whom have now been arrested for aggravated trespass over the print action — highlighted the irony of the accusations following the Council of Europe warning. 

The group also pointed to the criminal activity of Murdoch-owned papers including the phone-hacking scandal which led to the shutting down of News of the World. 

XR spokeswoman Nuala Gathercole Lam said: “Isn’t it interesting how when XR got in Rupert Murdoch’s way for a couple of hours suddenly the media giants, Boris and Priti are all singing from the same song book. 

“That’s despite the public laughing at the idea that we have a free press in this country. 

“It seems that when Rupert gets on the phone we see where their allegiances really lie, and it’s not with the people who elected them.” 

On Friday evening, more than 100 demonstrators used vehicles and bamboo lock-ons to block roads outside the newsprinters’ works on Friday evening. 

The blockade prevented delivery vans from leaving presses which also publish The Sun On Sunday and The Sunday Times, as well as The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mail and Mail On Sunday.

The action was carried out to protest against the right-wing media’s silence on the climate emergency. 

XR pointed out that Mr Murdoch, who invests in fossil-fuel companies, was key in trying to deny that fires in Australia last year were down to climate warming.

Granville Williams at the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom (North) told the Star he had “absolute admiration” for the XR protest. 

He said: “It was a really powerful way to make their point and reminds me of the print workers who stopped the presses during the miners’ strike when they wanted the right of reply for the striking miners to challenge media lies.

“The slogan ‘freedom of the press’ which the newspapers roll out is a smokescreen. 

“The real freedom of the press in this country has long been the freedom of billionaires to use their newspapers to propagate their views.”

In a joint statement, Media Lens founders David Edwards and David Cromwell told the Star: “These media have long suppressed the true extent of the crisis, have promoted irrational climate denial, have  poured scorn on the need for drastic action, and have continued to sell ‘business as usual’ long after it became insane to do so.

“Before denouncing the actions of XR as an attack on the ‘free press,’ we should ask ourselves if a genuinely free press driven by rational human concerns would be subordinating the survival of the species to short-term profit in this way. 

“In fact, the corporate press is not just a threat to a free press, it is a corporate occupying force preventing the emergence of a free press. 

“It is dedicated to the suppression of views and voices challenging corporate dominance that is now threatening human extinction. It has to be challenged, exposed and replaced.”

Labour MP Diane Abbott highlighted that the same outrage prompted by the XR direct action by right-wing titles was not expressed in response to actions by the far-right in Dover on Saturday. 

“The same papers complaining about blockades were not complaining about anti-immigrant activists located in Dover, and actually blockading ports is potentially far more damaging to the British economy than what happens in the newspaper plants,” she added.

Ms Abbott stressed that direct action was a legal tactic, comparing XR’s methods to those used by the suffragette movement. 


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