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Police are failing to protect press freedom by not acting over harassment of broadcasters

Sky News presenter Kay Burley might, of her own admission, be thick-skinned, but she should not have to put up with a constant barrage of insults as she goes about her day job as a journalist and nor should her interviewees.

Chants of “liar”, and worse, from Brexit protesters stationed a short distance from Sky’s studio tent outside Parliament have become a daily nuisance for both staff and viewers alike – at times almost drowning out interviews and frustrating legitimate journalistic inquiry.

What’s more, Burley should not require a security escort from her place of work, as she revealed in a tweet yesterday. To be clear, this is a journalist requiring protection to do her job in the UK.

It’s a tough business, journalism, but this level of harassment and intimidation is beyond the pale.

There has rightly been outrage over videos showing a group of pro-Brexit activists hounding the Guardian’s Owen Jones and Tory MP Anna Soubry (pictured) yesterday as they left media interviews.

In both instances, police officers appear to be nearby – certainly within earshot of abusive comments – but did not intervene. The Met has now promised more “robust” action against harassment and abuse.

In failing to take action so far, police have failed to protect journalists and journalism. A free press is a vital component of any functioning democracy and must be defended.

The irony of it all is that journalists have been pulled up by the Met for harassment over far less than what we saw in yesterday’s videos.

Then Croydon Advertiser chief reporter Gareth Davies was issued with a Prevention of Harassment notice in 2014 after contacting a convicted fraudster over fresh allegations against her.

The letter, which three officers delivered to his newsroom, stated in bold type: “HARASSMENT IS A CRIMINAL OFFENCE.” It took Davies two years to overturn. The woman was later charged as a direct result of the paper’s investigation.

It is a worrying time when police cannot tell the difference between legitimate journalistic inquiry and a gang of thugs teaming up to hurl constant abuse at media workers and their guests.

Press Gazette takes a robust view when it comes to defending freedom of speech, but recent activities outside Parliament have looked like crossing the line into harassment and assault with direct verbal abuse, threatening behaviour and intimidation.

Remember that 94 media workers were killed on the job last year, according to the International Federation of Journalists. Three of these were within the European Union.

It’s time we started taking the protection of journalists more seriously.

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