The billionaire-owned UK newspapers, along with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, decried the blockade by Extinction Rebellion (XR) environmental activists outside a number of printing presses last weekend. The action delayed printing and distribution of the climate-change-sceptic Telegraph, the Murdoch-owned Times, and the right-wing Daily Mail, among others.
Johnson, Home Secretary Priti Patel, and Labour leader Keir Starmer all said it was an attack on ‘a free press’ and ‘democracy’ – as if the ownership of major newspapers by a handful of billionaire bigots is in any sense ‘free’ or ‘democratic’.
The Tory government has consistently failed to tackle the current health and environmental emergency, for instance over illegal levels of air pollution causing tens of thousands of excess deaths in the UK each year. None of the delayed newspapers have campaigned to prosecute Johnson and his ministers over this outrage.
XR protesters have been charged with obstruction and had stringent bail conditions imposed on them. Patel has threatened to further restrict the freedom to protest by designating XR a criminal gang, opening up the activists to lengthy jail sentences.
Although XR fails to engage with trade unionists to discuss tactics and strategy in fighting climate change, etc, many sacked print workers and journalists were also accused of ‘curtailing press freedom’, when they organised mass picketing outside Murdoch’s News International plant in Wapping in 1986, and also at scab employer Eddie Shah’s Stockport Messenger plant at Warrington in 1983.
Any moves to criminalise climate change protests must be fought.