Tommy Robinson’s claim that he has been “convicted of journalism” after being sent down for contempt of court is a “dangerous distortion of the truth”, the Society of Editors has said.
Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, wore a t-shirt with the slogan printed across the front as he entered the Old Bailey yesterday, where he was handed a nine-month jail sentence.
The English Defence League founder was found guilty of livestreaming details of a sex grooming trial and confronting defendants in the case in May last year, despite reporting restrictions imposed by the court.
The case was linked with two others, with restrictions on the media put in place to prevent the risk of prejudicing juries in the other trials, one of which had not yet taken place.
Robinson’s video was broadcast on Facebook Live and watched by 250,000 people. He was accused of “reckless disobedience” of an important court order by Mr Justice Warby, who delivered his sentence yesterday.
Robinson used his t-shirt stunt to equate the UK with North Korea, showing both countries’ flags either side of an equals sign on the back. He is understood to have changed before appearing in the dock.
Society of Editors executive director Ian Murray said Robinson’s claim that his trial had been an attack on journalism was a “farce”.
He said the right-wing figurehead had broken laws that any junior reporter working for a reputable newspaper would have been aware of.
The society has nearly 400 members in senior editorial roles across the UK press.
Murray said Robinson’s conviction underscored how the “mainstream media” devotes time and resources into training journalists so they can be relied upon to report fairly and accurately.
He added: “While anyone can claim to be a journalist in this country, and there is no appetite nor should there be for the licensing of journalists in the UK, the mainstream British media adheres to the laws of the land, is correctly regulated and ensures its journalists are highly trained.
“I am not aware that Robinson has any formal training as a journalist, and to claim his trial and sentencing is an attack on journalism itself is a farce.”
But, Murray warned Robinson’s claims would provide ammunition for those who wish to harm the UK media.
“Sadly there are people who wish to see the media in the UK emasculated and these sorts of claims are so obviously unfounded they provide ammunition to attack us with,” he said.
“Against a background where some politicians who should know better are constantly attacking the free media, Robinson’s actions and subsequent claims to represent journalism under attack are a dangerous distraction.
“There are sufficient real and potential threats to genuine journalism to contend with such as the Online Harms White Paper, the Age Appropriate rulings from the Information Commissioner’s Office and the still un-repealed Section 40 clause to the Crime and Courts Act 2013.”
Robinson, 36, of Luton, Bedfordshire, was jailed for 13 months after being found in contempt of court on the day of the broadcast. He served ten weeks in jail before being freed after the original finding of contempt was overturned by the Court of Appeal in August last year.
The case was referred back to the Attorney General, who announced in March that it was in the public interest to bring fresh proceedings against Robinson.
Robinson had his sentence yesterday reduced to 19 weeks to account for the time he had already spent in custody. He will serve half of this.
Picture: David Mirzoeff/PA Wire