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10 September 2020

Newspapers And Independent Retailers Hit By XR Protests

MPs from across the political spectrum have condemned protests by Extinction Rebellion which disrupted supplies of national and local newspapers, denying the public access to trusted journalism during the coronavirus pandemic.

Following the protests, which saw protestors blockade two Newsprinters printing plants in Hertfordshire and Merseyside, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “A free press is vital in holding the government and other powerful institutions to account on issues critical for the future of our country, including the fight against climate change.

“It is completely unacceptable to seek to limit the public’s access to news in this way.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer said: "The free press is the cornerstone of democracy and we must do all we can to protect it.

"Denying people the chance to read what they choose - including an article by David Attenborough - is wrong and does nothing to tackle climate change," The Sun reported.

In addition to delaying the delivery of national newspaper titles, local titles including the Eastern Daily Press, Norwich Evening News and East Anglian Daily Times were affected by the disruption.

They were later printed at another site, but arrived at shops many hours late, and without pre-printed magazine Heaven which is normally part of the Saturday package.

The knock-on effect of the delayed printing was felt by local titles not even printed at affected sites such as The Yorkshire Post, which was late getting to shops, as wholesalers in some areas waited until the late papers arrived.

In a debate in the House of Commons Kit Malthouse, Minister for Crime and Policing, said :  “A free press is the cornerstone of a British society. The freedom to publish without fear or favour, to inform the public, to scrutinise our institutions and to stimulate debate on events that affect each and every one of us is indispensable.

“The actions of Extinction Rebellion were a direct challenge to this freedom and the values of liberty and tolerance that we hold dear."

He added: “By its actions this weekend, XR has done nothing to bolster the cause of fighting climate change. Rather, it has reminded us of the value of a free press and free expression and made us think about what more we may need to do to protect those freedoms.”

Sarah Jones MP, Labour, said: “We also know that the free press is the cornerstone of democracy, and we must do all we can to protect it. As a result, actions that stop people being able to read what they choose are wrong. They will do nothing to tackle climate change.

She added: “As the Leader of the Opposition said over the weekend, the actions of those who deliberately set out to break the law and stifle freedom of the press are completely unacceptable. Stopping people being able to buy the newspapers they choose and hitting small businesses in the process is hugely counterproductive. It does nothing to tackle the vital cause of tackling climate change. In fact, it sets it back.”

In a statement, NFRN national president Stuart Reddish said the protest had impacted "massively" on independent retailers' home news delivery operations, leading to elderly and vulnerable people being deprived of newspapers. He added: "Newsagents have played a critical role during Covid-19 in getting newspapers into the hands of readers and this is not helpful at a time when every sale counts."

Yvette Cooper MP, Labour, said: "I join both Front-Bench spokespeople in sending a strong message from this House about the importance of a free press in our democracy. Stopping newspapers being distributed in this way was completely wrong."

Mr Alistair Carmichael MP, Lib Dem, added: “I welcome, in the warmest possible terms, the very robust defence of the freedom of the press that we heard in the Minister’s statement. As he says, the freedom of our press to scrutinise our institutions is indispensable.

"With that in mind, and perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, I wonder whether he would agree that it was somewhat ill-advised of the Government in February to exclude a number of media outlets, including the Daily Mirror, The Independent and HuffPost, from Government briefings."

Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the environment Anthony Browne MP, Conservative, said: "I have seen around the world that those countries that have a free press are far better at tackling environmental problems than those countries without a free press.

"Will my hon. Friend join me in condemning Extinction Rebellion’s assault on the free press, and does he agree that such attacks on free speech will ultimately do more harm to the environmental cause than help it?"