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National Action Plan aims to protect journalists

THE UK Government published its first ever National Action Plan to protect journalists in early March.

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The plan online

Among its commitments is a pledge of a requirement some time in the future for employers to provide safety training for staff and freelances. (Emphasis added: the five mentions of freelances in the document are all about providing safety training making safety policies available to us.)

The Plan (in full here), weighs in at a surprisingly engaging 4000 words. It includes a "Table of Interventions".

These are undertakings and action points for government, especially its Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), as well as the NUJ, the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), police forces, the Society of Editors (SoE) and "others". (It was published just before the SoE statement denying racism in the UK Press, which led to the resignation of its executive director.)

The plan will require publishers to provide safety training for staff and freelances and to appoint designated safety officers. It calls on "publishers and broadcasters to do more to support their employees and the freelances that they engage". The NCTJ will provide safety training for student journalists and the NUJ and SoE will put online a free "support pack" for journalists on safety.

Social media platforms and prosecution services are to be induced to take "tough action" against those who abuse or attack our colleagues, with an expected commitment to responding promptly to complaints about threats to journalists.

DCMS will, as part of the Plan, work with the NUJ, the SoE and others to "explore the possibility of an emergency safety fund for journalists under immediate threat of harm".

The NUJ, SoE and others are to work with the NCTJ on training for journalists who cover "police operations". (At first reading this would appear 9to mean safety training for covering demos, protests and public order situations at which police are present and have a duty to ensure journalists can report safely on these.) There will also be training for police officers on dealing with journalists covering public order situations and on investigating crime against journalists.

Every police force will have to appoint a "journalist safety officer". A Chief Constable has already been appointed as "national lead" on journalists' safety.

There is also the promise of "new measures to research the problem" of abuse and harassment of journalists and its extent, and to help journalists identify threats and understand criminal law around threats to journalists. The Media Lawyers Association will input into this.

The NUJ in a statement welcomed the Plan. (The NUJ and the SoE are part of the recently established National Council for the Safety of Journalists, which has endorsed the plan.)

The Union's 2020 survey of members found that more than half of respondents had experienced online abuse and nearly a quarter had been physically assaulted.

Following this survey, the NUJ called for action to halt the rising harassment and abuse of our colleagues online and in the physical world. It pointed out that such abuse disproportionately targets women and BAME journalists. The DCMS announcement of the Plan mentioned this survey, as well as listing attacks on journalists in which they have been "punched, threatened with knives, forcibly detained and subjected to rape and death threats."

NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet described the Plan as "an important step towards... ensuring journalists can get on with their vital work free from harassment or intimidation." She called for more journalists to come forward and report harassment and abuse and welcome police and prosecution service pledges to take these cases seriously.

The action plan is to be reviewed regularly, with annual reports.

As a result of the Plan we can also expect in the near future a national Media Literacy Strategy and a Home Office call for evidence on threats and attacks to journalists. Watch this space.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said of the Plan: "This action plan is just the start of our work to protect those keeping the public informed, and defend those holding the government to account."