Press freedom 'remains under threat in Northern Ireland'

By Agencies
April 21, 2020

To mark the first anniversary of the killing of journalist Lyra McKee, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has reported on the worrying press freedom climate in Northern Ireland. This includes ongoing threats to journalists covering organised crime and paramilitary activities, and a troubling legal environment. RSF calls on the UK authorities to address these serious issues as a matter of urgent priority to prevent further acts of violence, and to improve the broader press freedom situation in Northern Ireland and the wider UK.

RSF has published a dispatch examining the press freedom situation in Northern Ireland, following a research mission to Belfast and Derry in early March. Representatives of RSF’s UK bureau interviewed journalists, lawyers and civil society representatives, and visited the site in the Creggan area of Derry where Lyra McKee was murdered on 18 April 2019 – the first killing of a journalist in the line of duty in the UK since the assasination of Martin O’Hagan near Belfast in September 2001.

The report details McKee’s killing and developments in the murder investigation that followed; the serious ongoing risks faced by journalists who report on organised crime and paramilitary activities; and a worrying legal climate, including the landmark case against investigative journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, whose heavy-handed treatment by police in connection with the source materials used in their film investigating the Loughinisland massacre could set an internationally important precedent.

“The situation of press freedom in Northern Ireland is of serious and growing concern. We were shocked by some of the reports we received from journalists in Belfast and Derry, who are clearly among the most at-risk reporters in the UK. As we remember and honour Lyra McKee, we must also act to protect those who continue to take great risks to report information in the public interest. These issues must be addressed by the UK authorities as a matter of urgent priority to prevent further acts of violence”, said RSF UK Bureau Director Rebecca Vincent.

RSF also underscores the pressing need for justice for Martin O’Hagan. No one has ever been convicted in connection with his 2001 assassination. Ending violence against journalists in Northern Ireland will require addressing both historical impunity and ongoing acts – and threats  – of violence.

The report contains a series of recommendations to the UK authorities on measures needed to address these serious concerns. If the UK government is serious about its stated priority commitment to championing media freedom globally, it must also address these pressing domestic concerns without further delay.

Also commenting, Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Programme Director, said: “The tragic death of Lyra McKee at the hands of republican paramilitaries twelve months ago is a reminder of the risks that reporters face every day around the world, including here in Northern Ireland.

“Northern Ireland continues to be the most dangerous part of the UK to be a journalist, threatening press freedom daily. In the year since Lyra’s death, reporters have continued to receive threats of violence and death on a regular basis and two reporters have had to defend their freedom in court after groundless arrests by the police. On the anniversary of Lyra’s murder, we remember her and her important work and renew our calls for justice.

“We continue to stand with journalists who are still under threat and those who work to expose uncomfortable truths, whether for the state or unlawful organisations. We recall too the 2001 killing by loyalist paramilitaries of Sunday World reporter Martin O’Hagan, for which no-one has ever been held to account. Press freedom is the cornerstone of a rights respecting society and we must all act together to guard it closely.”

The UK is ranked 33rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

* The full RSF report is available to download here

* Reporters Without Borders

* Amnesty International


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