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Printing presses could be designated “critical infrastructure” by government

Posted on: September 7, 2020 by Mariella Brown

The government is said to be looking at new legislation to protect a free press following the blockading of printing press sites by climate change activists over the weekend.

New powers could include the protection of “critical national infrastructure and tenets of democracy” making it illegal to blockade newspaper printing sites as well as Parliament and the courts.

It comes after the Society of Editors condemned the actions taken by Extinction Rebellion protesters which prevented the distribution of 1.5 million newspapers from News Corp-owned sites on Friday night.

The Prime Minister and Home Secretary are also said to have asked officials to conduct a rapid review of the law including options such as designating the climate change group as an organised crime gang in order to impose jail terms, the Daily Mail has reported.

Writing in the paper today, Home Secretary Priti Patel said she will be “looking at every opportunity available, including primary legislation, to ensure that there is a full suite of tools available to tackle this behaviour.”

“A free press is the cornerstone of British society. The freedom to publish, without fear nor favour, and to inform debate on events that affect each and every one of us is absolutely vital,” she added.

The Times and The Sun as well as The Telegraph and Daily Mail were among titles affected by climate change demonstrators who were protesting their claims over media coverage of climate crisis.

However, the SoE has warned that any proposed legislation that could limit the right to protest and exert freedom of speech should be received with caution.

The SoE’s Executive Director, Ian Murray said: “It is welcome news that the Government appears to recognise the true value of the free press in the UK to maintain our democracy. Protecting the ability of the media – in print, broadcast and digital – should be seen as vital for a democracy to survive. All steps should be taken within the law to ensure that newspapers and news organisations are free to deliver their content to the public.

“The Society of Editors would stress, however, that in the rush to prevent actions similar to those taken by Extinction Rebellion protestors at the weekend, the Government must be wary of going too far by taking measures that would stifle legitimate lawful protest. No new legislation should enable a government to silence anyone simply wishing to protest against the government itself or even the media.”

The Yorkshire Post and Eastern Daily Press were among local newspapers which also use the Newsprints works and were unable to be supplied to newsagents for Saturday morning deliveries.