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May 20, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:18am

Lockdown murder threats against Northern Ireland journalists prompt Stand up for Journalism campaign

By PA Mediapoint and Press Gazette

Three rival Belfast-based newspapers have joined together in solidarity against threats from paramilitaries against journalists.

A public statement declaring support for press freedom in Northern Ireland, signed by members of the UK government and the devolved Northern Ireland government as been published in the Belfast Telegraph, Irish News and News Letter.

It comes amid a loyalist threat to all journalists working at the Sunday Life and Sunday World and a recent threat by dissident republicans to an Irish News journalist.

Journalists for the two Sunday papers were visited by police officers in the early hours of 8 May after threats of imminent attacks against them – including that of a planned under-car booby trap – from the South East Antrim Ulster Defence Association.

There has been an overall escalation in intimidation and threats of violence sent to journalists in Northern Ireland over the past year, with politicians who have spoken out in support also targeted.

Under the banner “Stand Up for Journalism”, the statement asserts the right of reporters to work without threats, intimidation or harassment.

Seamus Dooley, NUJ assistant general secretary, said: “In the past, the trade union movement took to the streets in protest against the threats to workers. In the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves today, we rely on newspapers to highlight the threats to journalists.

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“By working with the publishers and our members affected, we have been able to secure the support of a cross-section of society in Northern Ireland. We warmly welcome the strong stand taken by political and community leaders and look forward to a renewed drive to ensure journalists can safely carry out their work on behalf of the public.”

Martin Breen, Sunday Life editor, said “enough is enough”.

“Some 26 years after the ceasefires, terrorist organisations from both the loyalist and republican side are continuing to threaten journalists on an ongoing basis because we have been exposing their dirty deeds and criminal empires,” he said.

“We all have to stand up against these vile threats as their sole aim is to silence investigative journalism and curtail the public’s right to know about those gangsters operating in their communities across Northern Ireland.

“We hold everyone to account and will continue to expose criminality and all wrongdoing no matter where it originates.”

Brian Farrell, Sunday World editor, said: “The recent threats issued to our journalists only serves to highlight the risk and importance of exposing the criminal menace that plagues our society.

“We will not be silenced nor intimidated and will not rest until those responsible are brought to justice.”

Noel Doran, Irish News editor, said: “The increase in the number of serious threats against Belfast-based journalists is a deeply alarming development, so the significant level of support behind today’s initiative is heartening.

“It sends out a strong message that all the attempts at intimidation will have no effect on our coverage, that the perpetrators need to be robustly pursued by the authorities and that civil society is firmly behind freedom of the press.”

The statement has been signed by First Minister Arlene Foster, Deputy First Minster Michelle O’Neill, UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis.

The majority of MLAs from the Northern Ireland Assembly have also endorsed the message, as have trade union, industry, community and religious leaders.

An online petition is now live for other supporters to add their names.

The UK slipped down the World Press Freedom Index rankings last month after the murder of Lyra McKee in Derry and continued threats to the safety of journalists in Northern Ireland.

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

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