Cross-community coalition demands 'immediate withdrawal' of paramilitary death threats against journalists
BUSINESS groups and trade unions representing hundreds of thousands of people today join religious and political leaders to demand the "immediate withdrawal" of paramilitary death threats against Northern Ireland journalists.
The call from one of the most powerful cross-community coalitions ever assembled in the north is published in all three regional daily newspapers.
It comes after an escalation of intimidation of journalists by loyalist and republican paramilitaries during lockdown.
Publishers of Irish News, Belfast Telegraph and News Letter have joined with the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) to issue the powerful statement demanding those responsible be "brought to justice" and for the "free and independent media" to be protected.
Among the signatories are unions representing teachers, midwives, prison officers and firefighters, with first and deputies first minister Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill leading support from every political party in Stormont.
Catholic primate Archbishop Eamon Martin and Protestant church leaders have added their names alongside senior Muslim and Jewish figures and international journalism and civil rights bodies.
Earlier this month police told journalists from the Sunday World and Sunday Life that their lives are under threat over their publications' reports on loyalist involvement in drug dealing, extortion and racketeering.
In April PSNI officers visited an Irish News journalist to notify them of a dissident republican plot to attack them in their own home.
Irish News editor Noel Doran said its coverage will not affected by "attempts at intimidation".
"The increase in the number of serious threats against Belfast-based journalists is a deeply alarming development, so the significant level of support behind today's initiative is heartening," he said.
"It sends out a strong message that all the attempts at intimidation will have no effect on our coverage, that the perpetrators need to be robustly pursued by the authorities and that civil society is firmly behind freedom of the press."
Edward McCann, Deputy Publisher at Independent News & Media said its newspapers "will not be silenced nor intimidated and will not rest until those responsible are brought to justice".
"The recent threats issued to our journalists only serves to highlight the risk and importance of exposing the criminal menace that plagues our society."
Anthony Bellanger. General Secretary, International Federation of Journalists said they "salute those who have stood up for the right of the media to operate without fear or intimidation".
He insisted "attempts to silence journalists in Northern Ireland cannot succeed" and called for the PSNI to be given "adequate resources" to protect those under threat.
Rev Chris Hudson, Moderator of the Non subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland said a free press "is an essential pillar of our democratic society".
"It is not expected that we agree with all opinions or news reports but what is expected is our expressed support for that pillar."
Esther Lynch Deputy General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation said "at a time when journalists are playing an important role in providing independent, verifiable information it is alarming to learn that reporters and media organisations in Northern Ireland have again been threatened by paramilitary groups".
"There is no place in a civilized society for the intimidation of journalists or of those who defend the media's right to seek the truth, no matter how uncomfortable that may be for those under scrutiny."
Jackie Pollock, Regional Secretary of Unite said: "The threats should be withdrawn immediately, those behind these threats have nothing to offer society and society will not tolerate such behaviour from drug trafficking criminals."