First UK action plan to protect journalists from abuse set out by Government - what you need to know

Tuesday, 9th March 2021, 12:23 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th March 2021, 12:23 pm
Measures in the new action plan include training for police officers and journalists (Photo: Shutterstock)

The government has published the UK’s first national action plan aimed at protecting journalists from abuse and harassment.

The plan comes following reports from journalists who have suffered abuse and attacks while going about their daily work, including being punched, threatened with knives, forcibly detained and subjected to rape and death threats.

A survey of members of the National Union of Journalists in November last year also found that more than half of respondents had experienced online abuse, while nearly a quarter had been physically assaulted or attacked.

Training for police and journalists

Measures in the new action plan include training for police officers and journalists, as well as commitments from social media platforms and prosecution services to take tough action against abusers.

This includes responding promptly to complaints of threats to journalists’ safety.

Every police force is to be given access to a designated journalist safety liaison officer, and the National Police Chiefs’ Council has appointed a lead officer to take responsibility for crimes against journalists at a national level.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Home Office will also be launching a call for evidence to build a better understanding of threats and abuse against journalists in order to take a targeted approach in tackling the issue.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Freedom of speech and a free press are at the very core of our democracy, and journalists must be able to go about their work without being threatened.

“The cowardly attacks and abuse directed at reporters for simply doing their job cannot continue.

“This action plan is just the start of our work to protect those keeping the public informed, and defend those holding the government to account.”

Improving safety online

As part of the national action plan, Facebook and Twitter have committed to respond promptly to complaints of threats to journalists’ safety online, the DCMS has said.

The government said the action plan supports wider work ministers are carrying out to uphold freedom of speech, under the forthcoming Online Safety Bill.

All social media users, including journalists, will be better able to report abuse and be supported by the platforms if they do so.

Online platforms will be required to protect users and enforce their terms and conditions or face sanctions, including fines of up to 10 per cent of their annual turnover or having their services blocked.

The Bill will also enshrine in law protections for journalistic content and free debate online.

The joint effort by law enforcement, broadcasters, publishers, industry bodies, unions and the government has been endorsed by the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists.

The plan will be reviewed as necessary on an ongoing basis and supports the wider work the government is doing to uphold freedom of speech, in particular protecting journalistic content from censorship and takedown online.

Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors said: “The action plan recognises the urgency of protecting journalists carrying out their vital role in protecting democracy.

“Due to their role in holding the powerful and those in authority to task, journalists attract strong reactions.

“But this should not manifest itself in ways that threaten journalists and their families. This action plan makes that clear.”