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Reform Magazine | October 27, 2020

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Three cheers for the free press

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What are we to do about unsatisfactory publications? (And yes, I’m aware of all the rude answers that question invites.) What should we do about press and media that are guilty of bias, or that are in the control of billionaires and are swayed by their agendas?

On 6 September, more than 100 Extinction Rebellion activists blocked access to three printing presses in Hertfordshire, Merseyside and North Lanarkshire, where rightwing newspapers including the Sun, Times, Telegraph and Mail are printed. They stopped papers reaching newsstands, explaining: ‘We desperately need them to stop spreading hatred and lies’, and highlighting the insufficient coverage given to climate crisis.

Reform has always enthusiastically covered the efforts of climate activists, especially the Christians among them, to keep our attention on the crisis and to put pressure on decisionmakers. That continues in this month’s news section (see page 5). Nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience seem to me to be the right response to our failure to sufficiently get to grips with the world’s greatest threat. Protesters are walking in the hallowed path of righteous disrupters from the suffragists to civil rights marchers.

I’ve heard people say: ‘I agree with their message but their methods are counterproductive – when you make commuters late you lose everyone’s sympathy.’ History seems to refute that argument though. Who looks back and says: ‘The suffragists had a point but it all went wrong when they started destroying private property’? Or: ‘Dr King would have achieved more if he hadn’t annoyed people by blocking bridges.’

Hampering the distribution of news, however, seems to me a mistake. The free press is one of the fundamental pillars of democracy, essential to its working. We attack it at our peril. Democracy is under quite enough strain as it is without climate activists kicking at the pillar. We watch across the Atlantic with dismay and horror as President Trump assaults the reputation of US news media. The temporary refusal of UK cabinet ministers to appear on Radio Four’s Today was, thank God, a very pale reflection of Mr Trump’s dictatorial ambitions. Attacking the free press as organs of fake news does not become less dangerous because it is done in the name of the climate.

Our civilisation faces no end of serious threats, from global warming, from disease, from international conflict, from our own weapons, and from the erosion of democracy. We do not protect ourselves by joining forces with one of those threats against the others. We protect ourselves, I believe, by joining our voices and actions with those on the side of truth, justice, peace and freedom.

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This article was published in the October 2020 edition of Reform

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