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Tommy Robinson's 'convicted of journalism' t-shirt slogan claim a 'farce', say editors

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

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8 thoughts on “Tommy Robinson's 'convicted of journalism' t-shirt slogan claim a 'farce', say editors”

  1. When I worked as a journalist, I seem to remember giving both sides of contentious pieces the opportunity to comment. Failing that, I would try to give some context to help explain both sides of the story.

    But not here, it seems. Here, as with many other established newspapers and journals, it seems you leave ‘reader comments’ below the piece to give the side of the story that you cannot bring yourselves to write.

    Is anyone else wondering why 250,000 people – in one morning – felt the need to get their news from a citizen journalist operating on Facebook? You can sniff all you like about lack of training, but Robinson and ‘reader comments’ are clearly meeting a need that 400 senior members of the MSM are not…

    THAT is the real news media story here.

  2. It’s not correct to say all of them. And reporting restrictions are quite commonplace in the criminal courts, and there are all sorts of reasons why they might be imposed.
    These are large and complex cases – with multiple defendants, multiple vulnerable victims and other witnesses. They are sometimes prosecuted – as was the case here – in smaller groups that make sense evidentially. And practical reasons come into playL Docks only hold so many defendants, and jurors can only process so much evidence, more defendants means longer trials and barristers aren’t in such plentiful supply that they can be free for an extended period.
    But there will be overlap in the trials – some defendants may face two trials, some witnesses may be in all the trials, and a standard court report of the trial would mean names, ages, addresses of defendants, adult witnesses can be published. That might risk prejudicing of the subsequent linked trial. It may expose the witnesses to intimidation.
    The reporting restriction imposed was a postponement of reporting – not a ban – to ensure the subsequent jury panels wouldn’t have any preconceptions from earlier media stories. Nothing more, nothing less. The order was to expire at the verdict stage of the final trial.
    One other thing to raise is that these sexual offences and involved some juveniles. Victims of sex crime have statutory anonymity for life (only they can waive it). And juveniles involved in adult criminal proceedings can be given anonymity by the judge on application by counsel (the much-heard “they can’t be named for legal reasons”). Any protection of these people can come with a cost to reporting. A child may be the victim of grooming by a relative. That means the media probably won’t be able to name that defendant because of the risk in doing so of identifying the child. It’s normal practice for a pool decision by reporters covering the case to come up with a common approach. Or the judge could impose a banning order to restrict the name of this putative defendant being published.
    Restrictions are handed down a lot by magistrates as a matter of course, or in ignorance. They’re open to challenge. Judges are more savvy and believe in public justice and its integrity. Would you rather wait a few weeks and get the lot of them done in an unimpeachable way? Or let the Yaxley-Lennons of this world to come in with their size twelves and smartphones, fatally undermining the very prosecutions that his and his supporters no doubt support, just because they see conspiracies and enemies everywhere they look?
    And let us not forget that Yaxley-Lennon’s defence to Contempt charges was almost total fiction. His ervidence was “not credible”. Judicial language for a pack of self-serving lies. He is where he belongs right now.

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