Five major national newspapers including the Sun and the Daily Mail will be missing from some newsagents’ shelves this morning after members of Extinction Rebellion blockaded two UK printworks owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp on Friday evening.
The home secretary, Priti Patel, called the demonstration, which led to more than a dozen arrests, an “attack on democracy”. The activists said the action was designed to highlight the titles’ “failure to report on the climate & ecological emergency”.
More than 100 protesters used vehicles and bamboo lock-ons to block roads outside the Newsprinters printing works at Broxbourne in Hertfordshire, and Knowsley, near Liverpool, on Friday.
Hertfordshire police said delivery lorries had not left the Broxbourne site as of 6am on Saturday, and that 13 arrests had been made.
The presses print the Murdoch-owned News Corp’s titles, including the Sun, Times, Sun on Sunday and Sunday Times, as well as the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, and the London Evening Standard.
A spokeswoman for Newsprinters said printing had transferred to “industry partners” overnight and said staff were working to get newspapers delivered to retailers as soon as possible this morning.
“We apologise sincerely to any readers of the Sun, the Times, the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times who may be unable to buy their usual newspaper this morning due to late deliveries.
“This attack on all of the free press impacted many workers going about their jobs. Overnight print workers, delivery drivers, wholesale workers and retail newsagents have faced delays and financial penalty. This is a matter for the police and the Home Office.”
Patel responded to the protest in a tweet, saying: “This morning people across the country will be prevented from reading their newspaper because of the actions of Extinction Rebellion.
“This attack on our free press, society and democracy is completely unacceptable.”
Hertfordshire police said officers were called to Great Eastern Road near the Broxbourne plant at about 10pm, where they found about 100 protesters who had “secured themselves to structures and one another”.
Under a banner reading “Free the truth”, XR tweeted that it was using the disruption to expose the newspapers’ “failure to report on the climate & ecological emergency, and their consistent manipulation of truth to suit their own agendas”.
The group said it was planning to block routes out of the printing works throughout the night.
Alanna Byrne, from Extinction Rebellion, said: “We will only tackle the climate and ecological emergency by breaking the traditional impasse of oppositional politics and coming together, despite our differences.
“If we are to sort out this mess we’re in, the mainstream media must stop profiting from clickbait culture that is swimming in misinformation, that makes us hate our neighbours, suspect foreigners and vulnerable groups, and rally the nation into action.”
Gully Bujak, an XR activist, said: “The climate emergency is an existential threat to humanity. Instead of publishing this on the front page every day as it deserves, much of our media ignores the issue and some actively sow the seeds of climate denial.”
Hertfordshire police assistant chief constable Owen Weatherill said officers were “working to facilitate the rights of both the protesters and those affected by their presence” but that protesters were not cooperating.
“The rights to protest are well established in this country and we remain committed to facilitating peaceful protest and ensuring compliance,” he said in a statement. “However, at this time, the group are not engaging with us and the protest is causing major disruption to local businesses.
“At this time, 13 people have been arrested in connection with the incident, and we anticipate more arrests will be made. I’d like to reassure you that we are doing all we can to bring the incident to a peaceful conclusion, ensuring minimum disruption to the affected businesses.”
XR protesters also held a smaller demonstration near Motherwell aimed at disrupting the distribution of Saturday’s Scottish Sun newspaper.
The Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood told Times Radio that Extinction Rebellion had “lost sight of how to campaign”.
He added: “The government has done much itself but obviously could do more and we need to work with the people to get that message across so we all can be more aware of the carbon footprint that we create.
“But what they’re doing here is to alienate more people. I fear the organisation itself has been hijacked.”
Meanwhile, climate change protesters have been warned they risk a large fine if they fail to comply with coronavirus rules banning gatherings of more than 30 people.
The Met police said risk assessments explaining how XR activists were minimising the possibility of Covid-19 transmission at a planned march in Westminster “did not meet the required standard”.
The force said XR’s latest round of demonstrations “pose a risk, not only to those involved, but to the wider public and communities of London”.
On Saturday, a procession of activists that set off from Brighton on foot a week ago is due to march the final stretch to parliament.
They have been banned from taking a 20ft (seven-metre) model boat named after teenage activist Greta Thunberg to the streets of Westminster.
On Friday, the Met police assistant commissioner LouisaRolfe warned the group not to take the Lightship Greta into an area stretching from Green Park to Lambeth.
Extinction Rebellion activists dumped manure outside News Corp offices in Sydney and Brisbane on Friday to protest against the media giant’s coverage of climate change.
A News Corp source defended the company’s stance on climate, saying that Saturday’s Sun was carrying an opinion piece by David Attenborough on how to tackle the climate crisis. The company is also moving to scrap all single-use plastic used to wrap its titles.
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