While XR disrupts the ‘free press’, the Tories are attacking independent media

Boris Johnson and the Declassified UK logo
Steve Topple

As Extinction Rebellion (XR) shut down the print versions of major UK newspapers, an actual attack on the free press was taking place. It’s one which shows that the Tory government’s creeping authoritarianism is still alive and kicking – and growing more concerning by the day.

XR: shutting down the corporate press

The Canary reported that on Saturday 5 September, XR activists blocked some corporate newspaper printing presses. This resulted in the deliveries of newspapers like the Sun and Telegraph being delayed in parts of England.  As The Canary wrote:

Under a banner reading ‘Free the truth’, XR tweeted that it was using the disruption to expose the newspapers’ ‘failure to report on the climate & ecological emergency, and their consistent manipulation of truth to suit their own agendas’.

MPs and people on social media responded differently to XR’s actions. Some people were supportive of the blockade:

But Tory government ministers and the Labour Party criticised XR:

The home secretary and prime minister seemed particularly rattled:

So, with both Priti Patel and Boris Johnson on the war path, the news that came out on Sunday 6 September may be of little surprise.

“Organised crime”

The Telegraph (currently “free to read” due to XR’s blockade) reported that the PM and home secretary are clamping down on XR. It said that the group:

could be treated as an organised crime group as part of a major crackdown on its activities that may also include new protections for MPs, judges and the press…

Whitehall sources said Boris Johnson and Priti Patel have asked officials to take a “fresh look” at how the group is classified under the law

It continued:

A Whitehall source said one option under discussion was for XR to be viewed as an organised crime group, which could result in its members being policed primarily by the National Crime Agency – Britain’s FBI.

Under the 2015 Serious Crime Act an organised crime group ‘has at its purpose, or one of its purposes, the carrying on of criminal activities, and consists of three or more people who agree to act together to further that purpose’.

Labour’s former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott called the potential move by the government “ridiculous”:

Whether or not you agree with XR’s action, tarring them with the “organised crime” brush seems wholly excessive and somewhat authoritarian. Moreover, MPs’ views that the group’s actions stifled the “free press” are also ridiculous.

The “free press”?

As writer Alex Tiffin reported, across the world just 24 companies own “the majority”  of “the world’s most powerful” media outlets. And as Novara Media‘s Aaron Bastani tweeted, the “free” British press is hardly free from agenda and bias:

Nor has it ever been:

But against the backdrop of the XR protests, the government is actively trying to stifle the actual ‘free’ press in the UK. And it reeks of yet more authoritarianism.

Declassified UK

As The Canary previously reported, the independent media outlet Declassified UK recently broke a story. It was about the military police arresting a serving member of the army. They did this because he was protesting over the war in Yemen and the UK government’s involvement. But since then, the story has become about Declassified UK.

The outlet claimed that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has “blacklisted” it. An MoD spokesperson told Declassified UK:

we no longer deal with your publication.

This attracted some attention from press monitoring groups, other independent organisations, and industry publications. The site’s editor and co-founder Mark Curtis told Press Gazette that Declassified UK was considering legal action against the MoD. On 4 September, the Council of Europe officially issued a “media freedom alert” over the situation. But this attempt by the UK government to sideline an independent, investigatory media outlet is nothing new.

Attacking the independents

In 2015, Disability News Service‘s (DNS) founder John Pring was blacklisted by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). As the National reported, Pring:

uncovered the first suicide case directly linked to the UK Government’s welfare cuts

As well as revealing:

that the DWP had secretly investigated more than 60 deaths of benefit claimants since 2012, without publishing the findings or the more than 30 resulting recommendations for change.

Yet, in Pring’s case there was little outcry from press freedom organisations, nor any action from the Council of Europe.

So it seems that while Declassified UK is the latest victim, it’s not the only one in the ongoing war against independent media. But there’s a particularly concerning narrative building from the government. The push-back to label the corporate media as “free”, while stifling the actual freedom of independent outlets, is Orwellian levels of propaganda. That, coupled with the BBC‘s appalling record as a public service, impartial broadcaster, paints a worrying picture for the future of the press in the UK.

Featured image via 10 Downing Street – YouTube and Declassified UK – screengrab

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  • Show Comments
    1. It is especially ironic that while a certain journalist is currently being tortured in Belmarsh prison for publishing the truth about a foreign country’s imperialist wars, these establishment figures are bleating about a ‘free press’ when XR stage a small demo outside a foreign-owned media empire.

    2. I noticed the Telegraph was “free to read” this weekend because of the hoo-ha at Broxbourne and Knowsley on Friday evening, so I thought I’d have a look, not having read it since finishing decorating some years ago (broadsheet much better than tabloid in a DIY context and free with a £10 shop at Waitrose then).

      Thank fuck it goes back behind the paywall tomorrow morning.

    3. I must say I’ve had my suspicions about Extinction Rebellion ever since they targeted Jeremy Corbyn’s house at one of their protests. Now we have these blockades, giving the impression that it is ‘the Left’ shutting down free speech when actually it is the press itself choosing to shut down free speech by peddling the right-wing propaganda of the Johnson government and refusing to hold them to account over the coronavirus and Brexit disasters.

    4. Can’t offer much that the above haven’t already covered brilliantly, but I find it interesting that when its the express or the daily fail putting out clear propaganda and not even bothering to pretend they are independent they get applauded by the Tories but anyone daring to stray from the path set down for them are deemed fake left wing liars.

      But for me the really hard part to take is that the British people can’t think for themselves and are quite happy to do whatever the right wing propaganda scum that own these comics tell them.

      1. DRS you are such a needle point injury. And so very 1970s, wake up you sleepy Elizabethan self-sharpening dagger scabbard. I’m sure The Canary is happy to take your money wherever it originates from. You were never more than a toy soldier…

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