Insights Government publishes National Action Plan for the Safety of Journalists


The Government says that too many journalists working in the UK today are facing both abuse and threats to their personal safety, as well as encroachments on their freedom of expression. The Action Plan aims to help guard them from threats to their safety, while the forthcoming online safety legislation will enshrine in law protections for journalistic content and free debate.

The Government acknowledges the input it has received from broadcasters, publishers and other stakeholders from across the industry, which has led to the Action Plan. The Government also acknowledges the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists, which was established in July 2020.

The Action Plan calls on publishers and broadcasters to do more to support their employees and the freelancers that they engage; it calls on platforms to do more to tackle online abuse; and it calls on the criminal justice system to ensure that those who attack and threaten journalists are brought to justice.

The Action Plan is a living document, the Government says, which will be revisited as new evidence is received on the nature and scale of the problem; as the issues that underlie it are further explored; and through the ongoing engagement that will be taking place with journalists. At each and every meeting that it convenes, the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists will hold all to account for delivery, and will keep under constant review what additional steps could be taken as understanding of the challenges evolves.

The objective of the Action Plan is to ensure that journalists operating in the UK are as safe as possible, reducing the number of attacks on and threats issued to journalists, and ensuring those that are responsible for such are brought to justice. In order to support this goal, the Government is taking steps to:

  1. increase its understanding of the problem: the Home Office will issue a call for evidence on threats/attacks to journalists in early 2021; DCMS, the NUJ and the Society of Editors will conduct an annual survey of journalists after the conclusion of the call for evidence; The Foreign Office will use its global network to share insights and strategies on the protection of journalists with the aim of mutually strengthening domestic approaches;
  2. enhance the criminal justice system response in tackling crimes against journalists: the police will work with the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) to provide training on police operations for journalists, initially through a pilot workshop on the NCTJ course at the University of Portsmouth; every police force within the UK will have access to a designated journalist safety liaison officer; the police will engage with the NUJ, the Society of Editors and others to update their training offer for police in relation to demonstrations (and the role of journalists in covering these), and in relation to investigating crime against journalists; the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) will identify an existing lead to take responsibility for crime against journalists;
  3. support journalists and their employers to build the resources they need to protect personal safety: the Media Lawyers Association will produce guidance to help journalists understand the law in this area and help them recognise abuse that may be illegal; the NUJ and Society of Editors will collate and host a free online toolkit/support pack for journalists; the NUJ, Society of Editors and others will engage closely with UK police representatives and the NCTJ to review their training offer on police operations; the NUJ, Society of Editors and others will work with DCMS to explore the possibility of an emergency safety fund for journalists under immediate threat of harm; the NCTJ will provide safety training as part of their training offer; further, many publishers and broadcasters have committed, in their role as employers of journalists, to: provide safety training for staff and freelancers on managing threats; review their safety policies, and engage in a collaborative approach to developing best practice safety policies across the industry; ensure safety policies are well publicised to staff and freelancers; establish designated safety officers; and
  4. help online platforms to tackle the wider issue of abuse online: the Government says that it will make the UK the safest place in the world to be online through the introduction of an Online Safety Bill; Facebook and Twitter will respond promptly to complaints of threats to journalists’ safety; the Government will look at the criminal law and whether it can more effectively address online abuse; and
  5. improve public recognition of the value of journalists: the government will publish an Online Media Literacy Strategy which will include supporting wider public understanding of the role of journalism; the government will use the existing Journalism Matters week to highlight the safety of journalists.

The Government says that it will work with stakeholders to report to the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists annually on progress against all commitments. The Committee will hold to account each stakeholder who commits to an intervention, both at the formal meetings which it will hold twice a year and in its day-to-day interactions within the sector. To access the Action Plan, click here.