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Sunday, September 06, 2020

Is Extinction Rebellion really an existential threat to our democracy?

I suffered a minor inconvenience yesterday when, thanks to protests by Extinction Rebellion, I was unable to get the supplements that normally accompany my weekend Guardian. As a result, and being that sort of fuddy-duddy, I was unable to enjoy my leisurely Saturday breakfast browsing the literary supplement, discovering the latest verdict in the Blind Date feature. learning how to make the perfect flapjacks or reading the much heralded interview with Jane Fonda.

It is not the end of the world, though if you were to listen to the Society of Editors or some of the ramblings of assorted Tory MPs (and one or two Liberal Democrat MPs, it has to be said), this minor protest could well have heralded the final throes of British democracy.

It is certainly the case that we consider the freedom of the press to be sacrosanct in the UK, an important pillar of our democracy, holding politicians to account, exposing political scandals and reporting freely on the events up and down the country. In doing so we often overlook the abuses that much of that press have indulged in, not least hacking phones, and ruining lives by printing scurrilous gossip that by rights should remain private.

But I am not writing this to have a go at the media, though it is curious how those who criticised the media for such abuses are the very ones now running to their defence over charges that they are not taking climate change seriously enough.

The fact remains that another important pillar of our democracy is the right to protest. That a group like Extinction Rebellion might go too far sometimes does not undermine their right to make their point in a way that is entirely consistent with democratic freedoms. These are peaceful protests and as always, it is the protester who answers for his or actions if he or she breaks the law.

Proposals being mooted by sources close to the Prime Ministers office to proscribe Extinction by designating it an Organised Crime Group are as big a threat to our democracy as any protest that stops a few newspapers being printed on a particular day.

And let's put things in context here. Most of the articles I missed reading over the breakfast table can be found on-line. In fact far more people access the news through the online sites of these various newspapers than actually buy and read the paper version. There was no suppression of news, it was there as ever at the click of a button on one's tablet, phone, laptop or PC.

The biggest irony of all of course is the Prime Minister's reaction. He tweeted: 'A free press is vital in holding the government and other powerful institutions to account on issues critical for the future of our country, including the fight against climate change. It is completely unacceptable to seek to limit the public’s access to news in this way.'

This is the same man whose party banned the Mirror from the Tory election bus, refused to put ministers up on Channel 4 and GMTV, snatched a phone from one reporter, hid in a fridge from another, refused to be interviewed by Andrew Neil, banned various news outlets from press conferences, boycotted the Today programme, and illegally closed down parliament to avoid scrutiny.

So much for valuing the role of the media in holding politicians to account. And don't even get me started on Boris Johnson's record on climate change.

Isn't it time we all calmed down now?
You forgot Patel criticising them.
OH! I forgot, has she/he criticised what went on in Dover?
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