Extinction Rebellion’s UK press blockade draws political criticism
Extinction Rebellion protesters in London on September 4 | Andy Rain/EFE via EPA
Police arrested members of the protest group over its blockade of delivery trucks leaving printing presses.
9/5/20, 3:00 PM CET
Updated 9/5/20, 4:07 PM CET
Several dozen members of the global climate protest movement Extinction Rebellion were arrested Saturday following the group's blockade of trucks delivering several major U.K. newspapers. In a protest that began Friday night, some 100 activists targeted printing presses used by the publisher News UK, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, causing delays on Saturday morning in deliveries of the Sun, the Times, the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times. Activists accuse the papers of failing to report on the scale and urgency of the climate crisis.
Some 42 people were arrested at a press in Hertfordshire, in southern England, and another 30 at a site in Meyerside, near Liverpool, the BBC reported. The protest drew strong condemnation among politicians of both the Conservative and Labour parties, who disapproved of the disruption caused by the blockade. "A free press is vital in holding the government and other powerful institutions to account on issues critical for the future of our country, including the fight against climate change," Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted on Saturday. "It is completely unacceptable to seek to limit the public's access to news in this way."
A free press is vital in holding the government and other powerful institutions to account on issues critical for the future of our country, including the fight against climate change.
It is completely unacceptable to seek to limit the public's access to news in this way. -- Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) September 5, 2020
His comments were echoed by others in the party, including Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who accused Extinction Rebellion of "trying to suppress free speech" and said "they must be dealt with by the full force of the law." Home Secretary Priti Pratel on Friday evening branded the demonstration "attack on democracy." Labour's Emily Thornberry, shadow secretary of state for international trade, told Times Radio on Saturday: "This is very worrying and I don't really know what it is that is expected to be achieved."
"A free press is vital for our democracy," the Labour party said in a statement, according to ITV News. "People have the right to read the newspapers they want. Stopping them from being distributed and printers from doing their jobs is wrong." Protesters appeared to find sympathy among some parliamentarians, however.
In a now-deleted tweet, Labour MP Dawn Butler said the Extinction Rebellion protesters had done "excellent work," adding "Bravo." Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood said he feared the organization had been "hijacked," telling Times Radio: "They have lost sight, I think, of how to campaign, how to garner greater national consensus and indeed advance government policy on what is actually a very, very important issue ... what they're doing here is to alienate more people." Extinction Rebellion on Saturday apologized to newsagents for the "disruption caused to your business this morning," but added: "Dear Mr.
Murdoch, we are absolutely not sorry for continuing to disrupt your agenda this morning." A group of activists who set out from Brighton on foot are expected to march on Parliament on Saturday. Police have warned that the protesters risk fines if they breach coronavirus regulations limiting gatherings to 30 people, according to the BBC.
This article has been updated.