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Journalists facing ‘daily onslaught’ of abuse, says industry boss

Owen MeredithThe abuse of journalists both online and in person has become a key issue in the media industry in recent times, with HTFP highlighting numerous instances of the problem in the regional press.

Over the past month we have reported on the case of Lee Trewhela, who cited abuse on social media as one of his reasons for deciding to leave the industry after 30 years.

In the same week, Iliffe Media editorial director Ian Carter warned that the prospect of “abuse by morons” was hitting the numbers of young people wanting to enter the industry.

Here, in an opinion piece marking Journalism Matters week, News Media Association chairman Owen Meredith, pictured, bemoans the “daily onslaught” of abuse faced by local reporters and calls for the public to celebrate the work done by journalists instead.

Trusted journalism has a key role to play in many areas of our lives today.

During the pandemic, we have seen time and time again the vital importance of the public being able to access accurate news and information in a timely fashion.

Through their campaigns and appeals, news media titles have been active players in the recovery and will continue to be so.

And, as world leaders meet in Glasgow for COP26, the importance of journalism in tackling climate change cannot be overstated.

Only through robust public debate and scrutiny will we find the innovative solutions to the immense challenges that the climate crisis presents.

The value of journalism to society has never been greater.

Yet, sadly, journalists today face an increasing array of threats and intimidation from those who would rather the truth remained hidden from view.

Here in the UK, many journalists on local, regional, and national titles face a daily onslaught of vile abuse and threats on social media.

A new survey of the sector has found that more than four out of five respondents had experienced incidents, such as ‘abuse’, ‘intimidation’ and ‘threats of violence’, both online and offline, at varying frequency.

And, shockingly, more than one in three female respondents indicated that they do not feel safe operating as a journalist in the UK.

That’s completely unacceptable.

The picture globally is also deteriorating.

Last year, a UNESCO report warned of a sharp escalation in abuse of journalists and called for governments internationally to act.

Journalists across the globe covering demonstrations related to COVID-19 restrictions or vaccinations face abuse, intimidation and assault while doing their jobs, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

At the time of writing, Mexico has the grim title of being the deadliest country for journalists to work in, with seven killings in the country so far in 2021 out of a global total of 35, according to Reporters Without Borders.

We have also seen the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, prompting journalists and those who have assisted them in their work to flee the country in fear of their lives.

And, closer to home, the killing of Lyra McKee in April 2019 serves as a stark reminder of the threat.

It’s a bleak picture for a sector that seeks to serve the public by uncovering truths on their behalf.

In the UK, we welcome the clear commitment from Government to tackle the growing threat to journalists’ safety through its National Action Plan.

No-one should have to go to work fearing that they will be abused, assaulted or worse. Journalists are no different.

This week (1-7 November), the news media sector celebrates its annual Journalism Matters campaign to highlight the importance of trusted journalism to our society.

Please join us in celebrating what journalists do, and by condemning those who would seek to silence journalists through abuse, intimidation and physical violence.

Journalism matters more than ever, and we need to work together to ensure that journalists can continue to perform their vital work on behalf of the public and help answer the challenges that we all face.