The UK’s National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has withdrawn a statement in support of Grayzone journalist Kit Klarenberg. It came after counter-terrorism police detained him at Luton airport on 17 May.
Kit Klarenberg detained at Luton airport
The Grayzone is a controversial US-based media outlet which focuses on US and UK foreign policy, from a non-Western perspective. Some people have accused it of pushing propaganda for authoritarian states like Russia and Syria. However, Grayzone would say it is anti-US imperialism. On Klarenberg’s detention, it reported:
As soon as journalist Kit Klarenberg landed in his home country of Britain on May 17, 2023, six anonymous plainclothes counter-terror officers detained him. They quickly escorted him to a back room, where they grilled him for over five hours about his reporting for this outlet. They also inquired about his personal opinion on everything from the current British political leadership to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
At one point, Klarenberg’s interrogators demanded to know whether The Grayzone had a special arrangement with Russia’s Federal Security Bureau (FSB) to publish hacked material.
During Klarenberg’s detention, police seized the journalist’s electronic devices and SD cards, fingerprinted him, took DNA swabs, and photographed him intensively. They threatened to arrest him if he did not comply.
The detention order the cops gave to Klarenberg was standard. It reads that the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act (2019) allows counter-terror police to detain people if they suspect they are “a person who is or has been engaged in hostile activity”.
Grayzone seems to think this was the case with Klarenberg. It cited his reporting on things like:
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how a cabal of Tory national security hardliners violated the Official Secrets Act to exploit Brexit and install Boris Johnson as prime minister. In October 2022, he earned international headlines with his exposé of British plans to bomb the Kerch Bridge connecting Crimea to the Russian Federation. Then came his report on the CIA’s recruitment of two 9/11 hijackers this April, a viral sensation that generated massive social media attention.
As the Morning Star reported, Klarenberg said that cops:
asked which publications I wrote for, and I told them I wrote for many… Their overwhelming, if not exclusive, interest was in The Grayzone.
The NUJ: sorry, what?
After his detention, the NUJ initially came out in support of Klarenberg. It put a statement on its website on Friday 2 June saying the union expressed “grave concern” over police detention of him. NUJ assistant general secretary Séamus Dooley said in the statement that:
The detention of Kit Klarenberg and line of questioning pursued by officers is of huge concern to the NUJ. Journalists have the right to protect sources and the seizure of Kit’s personal material in this manner under counter terrorism law, leaves many questions unanswered.
The apparent targeting of a journalist risks creating a chilling effect on others reporting on stories in the public interest and many will be aware that it follows the recent arrest of publisher Ernest M, also under counter-terrorism legislation by British police in April. Journalists will no doubt be astounded by actions of the police and rightly expect information on reasons behind Kit’s detention.
However, not long after the NUJ released the statement, it took it down again:
.@NUJofficial has deleted its statement of concern about my detention. Concerning, given I was explicitly asked about journalistic materials and + significant proportion of interrogation concerned journalism. This is of concern to all journalists entering and leaving the UK. https://t.co/ebAGvYX06L
— Kit Klarenberg (@KitKlarenberg) June 3, 2023
Klarenberg further said on Twitter that:
Both the online entry and an accompanying tweet of @NUJOfficial’s “grave concern” about my detention under counter-terror powers have been deleted. But it remains extant on their president’s Twitter timeline. How could/why should any journalist trust them after this capitulation?
Other people on Twitter were angry with the NUJ. Grayzone journalists Aaron Maté and Max Blumenthal shared their fury:
The cowardice that pervades the Western media field never ceases to amaze. https://t.co/o3jjdjdHuv
— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) June 3, 2023
Other people expressed solidarity:
This anti-democratic behaviour against critical journalists is just following on from the #Assange precedent.
— Dr Deepa Govindarajan Driver (@deepa_driver) May 31, 2023
.@KitKlarenberg was detained and interrogated for five hours about his political views.
Those who got Johnson elected (BBC and Guardian) are having no issues. How many people died under Johnson’s regime? https://t.co/qKYZo3PNwJ
— Joanna Booth (@stillawake) June 2, 2023
The Canary asked the NUJ for comment. We specifically wanted to know why it had withdrawn its statement in support of Klarenberg. It had not responded at the time of publication.
Klarenberg’s situation has echoes of UK cops arresting French publishing manager Ernest Moret in April. He works for left-wing publisher Editions La Fabrique. The Guardian reported at the time that:
He was arrested, after six hours of questioning, for alleged obstruction in refusing to disclose the passcodes to his phone and computer.
“interrogated for several hours and asked some very disturbing questions”, said the publishers, including about his view on pension reform in France, as well as his opinion on the French government and president Emmanuel Macron.
As of 2pm on Monday 5 June, the Guardian had failed to report on police detaining Klarenberg. Moreover, the NUJ statement in support of Moret is still online. So, it seems in the corporate media and the NUJ, there’s one rule for some journalists being harassed by cops, and a different one for others. Of course, as writer RD Hale highlighted in Council Estate Media, there’s a massive problem with this. Hale asked :
Hands up everyone who only wants to see journalism the government likes? No one? Okay, then we all see the problem here.
Detaining journalists: a slippery slope
Of course, the cops detaining Klarenberg is mild compared to how other countries treat their journalists. As Reporters Without Borders (RSF) wrote:
At least 1,059 journalists have been murdered in the past ten years, and 387 were arbitrarily detained at the end of 2020, according to RSF. The rate of impunity for crimes of violence against journalists is still around 90%. Threats and hate speech against journalists are flourishing online, as well as disinformation. And women journalists are being targeted both as journalists and as women.
Moreover, it’s often non-Western countries where journalists’ lives are most at risk. As UNESCO wrote:
Latin America and the Caribbean was the deadliest for journalists in 2022 with 44 killings, over half of all of those killed worldwide. Asia and the Pacific registered 16 killings, while 11 were killed in Eastern Europe.
So, a white, male journalist being detained for a few hours in Luton airport is very mild in comparison.
However, the situation in the UK is relative. Our state claims we have a free press – and condemns other, non-Western countries which don’t. Yet here it is actively targeting journalists – and trying to legislate to do so, as well. The NUJ’s apparent backpedalling on its support for a journalist is a major concern, too.
Agreement with the political outlook of Klarenberg’s journalism or the Grayzone more broadly is less important than solidarity against the state’s authoritarianism.
For a country that claims to be a democracy (and likes pushing its version of democracy onto other countries), the UK is not – and never has been – any such thing. It is quickly turning more authoritarian by the day – and Klarenberg’s detention signals a slippery slope the UK is heading down.
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