PSNI chief to be quizzed on safety of journalists

Rebecca Black, PA
·2-min read

Northern Ireland’s chief constable is set to be questioned about the safety of journalists.

Simon Byrne will meet MLAs from the newly formed Stormont All-Party Group on Press Freedom and Media Sustainability on Friday.

The group has referred to hearing evidence of an unacceptable increase in threats against journalists in the region.

Sunday World journalist Patricia Devlin (Patricia Devlin/PA)
Sunday World journalist Patricia Devlin (Patricia Devlin/PA)

Sunday World journalist Patricia Devlin was recently the target of sinister graffiti in east Belfast.

Ms Devlin along with a number of journalists have also been warned of threats against them.

SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole said the all party group was founded to do something about the level of threat faced by journalists.

He said he welcomed words of condemnation from the chief constable on threats to journalists, but said those words must be “turned into action”.

“No democratic society can function if journalists are not free to do their jobs,” he said.

Coronavirus – Wed Apr 22, 2020
SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole (Peter Morrison/PA)

“And these threats cannot simply be left unchecked. We will be seeking clarity and action from the Chief Constable when we meet him tomorrow.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt said police need to do more to engage and reassure journalists who are subjected to threats.

“I look forward to the Chief Constable detailing the service’s intentions in that regard to the All-Party Group,” he said.

“It is crucial journalists perceive threats are taken seriously and that starts with engagement at the right level within the PSNI.”

The group indicated that it will consider possible further recommendations on how best to protect journalists which could then be presented to the Stormont Executive.

Amnesty International said it had written to the group to raise concerns around press freedom in Northern Ireland.

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Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International (Niall Carson/PA)

Patrick Corrigan said journalists – particularly those investigating paramilitary and criminal activity – are working in a “climate of fear”.

“Death threats are an attempt to intimidate journalists from doing their jobs and constitute an attack on freedom of the press and the public’s right to information,” he said.

“However, no-one ever seems to be arrested and prosecuted for these threats. The Chief Constable must explain why.”

Last year, Amnesty supported Ms Devlin in lodging a complaint with the Police Ombudsman in relation to a “lack of an effective investigation” by the PSNI” into a threat to rape her newborn son.