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Government unveils ‘action plan’ to tackle attacks on journalists

Ministers are setting out new plans to protect reporters from the rising tide of threats and abuse.

Culture secretary Lucy Frazer is announcing the creation of a ‘press safety tracker’ – a new online tool where journalists can report abuse and help build greater understanding of safety issues affecting them.

In a move designed to coincide with the start of Journalism Matters Week, the government is also pledging a task force to tackle the use of SLAPPS – strategic lawsuits against public participation – by the rich and powerful.

The announcements are being made at a Downing Street reception today, to which some of the journalists who have faced abuse while going about their work have been invited.

Lucy Frazer
Other measures being outlined include new opportunities will be provided for police officers to undertake training to increase understanding of how journalists can report and observe protests.

And a new working group is being created for publishers and broadcasters to share learnings and best practices for safeguarding editorial staff.

Ms Frazer, pictured, said: “Today we celebrate the vital work of our world-class journalists who keep our democracy alive through their investigations and ruthless scrutiny of the powerful.

“At a time when reporters are losing their lives while showing the world what is happening in the Middle East and Ukraine, and where misinformation about the conflicts is rife on social media, the importance of rigorous, fact-checked journalism has never been more apparent.

“As Culture Secretary I want to protect and enhance the freedom of our press. No journalist should be prevented from doing their job due to fear of violence, abuse or harassment.

“Our revamped national action plan will strengthen efforts to protect journalists working in the UK from harm, enhancing their freedom to hold the powerful to account without fear of abuse or harassment.

The action plan falso aims to bolster the criminal justice response to crimes against journalists and support journalists and their employers to build resources to protect personal safety.

Dawn Alford, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: “At a time when accurate and verifiable news and information remains critical to the public’s understanding of world affairs, it is devastating that abuse and harassment of journalists remains so commonplace.

“The renewed action plan contains additional commitments aimed at prioritising journalists’ safety including broader police and industry engagement and a taskforce dedicated to exploring non-legislative means of combating SLAPPs.

“These measures should ensure that awareness-raising and regulation work hand-in-hand with legislation in this area. We look forward to working together to help create a safe and free environment for journalists to report on behalf of the public.”

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, added: “The safety of journalists is the NUJ’s top priority, which is why the work of the UK’s National Committee for the Safety of Journalists’ and its action plan is so important.

“To follow on from our successful mobile safety toolkit, we will be creating a press safety tracker so journalists will be able to report incidents ranging from online abuse, problems during demonstrations caused by protestors or the police, and sexual harassment to the wider challenges posed by Slapps and other legal threats designed to stymie and interfere with journalistic reporting and investigations.

“Attacks on journalists are deployed to silence and intimidate those who work to uphold the public’s right to know. NUJ members have shared horrific experiences of being attacked, abused and threatened – on and offline – simply for doing their job.

“The action plan is a central part of stamping out such behaviour and ensuring that journalists can go about their vital work safely and free from interference.”