Leading article

Threats against journalists must be withdrawn

The role of the media in these unprecedented times is arguably more important than ever as people seek out accurate information and analysis provided by credible sources.

There is clear evidence the public wants to be fully informed about all the latest developments in a global pandemic that affects every single person.

It is the job of journalists to report the actions of those in authority, present and explain data, examine the implications of decisions and to hold those in power to account.

All this is absolutely essential in a properly functioning democracy but beyond the coronavirus crisis, it has to be recognised there are groups in Northern Ireland who are vehemently opposed to their activities being scrutinised and held up to the light.

These illegal groups are comprised of criminals and gangsters, who have a toxic hold on their local communities and deploy the weapons of threat and intimidation against those who dare challenge them, including journalists who try to expose their malign activities.

In recent weeks loyalist paramilitaries have threatened all journalists working for the Sunday Life and Sunday World newspapers while dissident republicans have issued a threat against an Irish News journalist.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time attempts have been made to intimidate journalists from these newspapers and we have to ask ourselves if we want to live in a society where press freedom is undermined by thugs and bully-boys.

These organisations believe they can exert their authority by the threat of violence and for them there are no limits.

Politicians who spoke out against the recent threats were themselves subjected to intimidation.

These tactics are an assault on democracy and should not be tolerated in a free and open society.

Today the first and deputy first minister, the secretary of state, a wide range of elected representatives, church leaders and leading figures in business, the trade unions and civic society, join with media organisations to stand up for press freedom and demand that threats of violence against journalists are withdrawn.

There is no doubt this intimidation comes at a difficult time for newspapers as they aim to keep readers informed about this emergency while dealing with unparalleled economic and logistical challenges.

These are exceptional times but no matter the circumstances, a free and independent press will not be deterred from carrying out its crucial role on behalf of the public.

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Leading article