The UK Prime Minister has criticised anti-lockdown protestors who chased and verbally abused BBC Newsnight political editor Nick Watt.
Watt was covering an anti-lockdown protest in central London when a group of maskless protestors began following and shouting at him.
At one point, Watt began to run away while the protesters shouted ‘scum’, while one man repeatedly yells “traitor” in his face. Police at the scene did not intervene.
The police’s inactivity has been criticised by the NUJ, the UK’s national Union of Journalists.
Michelle Stanistreet, the union’s general secretary, said in a statement that, “it is genuinely shocking that a man escaping a mob screaming at him, shouting traitor and calling him scum, didn’t result in the police immediately intervening.”
“Action should be taken against these thugs. No one should have to tolerate such abusive behaviour and harassment simply for doing their job.”
Fellow journalists also stepped in to defend Watt after the incident occurred.
Mark Urban, Newsnight’s diplomatic editor, tweeted: “What happens when the online mob decides to act out in public. Not something anyone should have to put up with at work.”
Robyn Vinter, an investigative journalist, said that the abuse directed at Watt was “far from an isolated incident.”
She tweeted, “I was at a job only a few weeks ago where broadcasters were harassed by aggressive anti-lockdowners (though on a smaller scale). BBC journalists kindly shared their security with me.”
Jess Brammar, a former deputy editor on the program and the former editor of HuffPost UK wrote, “this is what stoking up hatred (not criticism, that’s completely different) against journalists and the BBC looks like. You know who you are if you’ve played that game. I hope you have the decency to feel a bit of shame about it.”
Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, tweeted that the treatment of Watt was “disgraceful” and that the media is “the lifeblood of our democracy.”
Disgraceful to see the hounding of Nick Watt doing his job.
The media must be able to report the facts without fear or favour – they are the lifeblood of our democracy.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) June 15, 2021
The protest in question was called in response to the PM’s decision to extend elements of the UK’s COVID-19 restrictions for four weeks because of concerns about the highly infectious delta variant of the disease.
One man has now been charged with using “threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour with the intention of causing harassment or distress”, as reported by the BBC.
The UK is currently ranked 33rd in the Reporters Without Borders‘ press freedom index.
Part of the justification of this ranking on the site is the fact that “critical reporting on the government’s COVID-19 response was met with vindictive official reactions.”
In May of 2020, the Council of Europe issued a media freedom alert over the government’s COVID-19 daily press conferences, when journalists from the site OpenDemocracy were barred from asking questions.
Then, in September, the Council issued another media freedom alert after Ministry of Defense press officers would not work with investigative website Declassified UK.
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