Environmental activists blockaded two British printing presses Saturday, preventing a number of newspapers being delivered — a move that drew criticism from across the political spectrum and was condemned by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as “completely unacceptable.”
Dozens of activists belonging to Extinction Rebellion targeted printworks in Broxbourne, north of London and Knowsley in northwest England. They locked themselves to trucks and erected bamboo scaffolding outside the presses, blocking roads out of the facilities.
Police arrested 42 people at Broxbourne and 30 at Knowsley.
The presses belong to News Corp., which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also owns Fox Corp., the parent company of Fox News. The protests led to the disruption of The Sun and The Times of London, as well as the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and Financial Times.
“We apologise to readers who may be unable to buy their usual newspaper this morning,” the Times of London said in a statement. “Overnight printing of The Times was disrupted by Extinction Rebellion — alongside other newspapers. We are working to get newspapers delivered to retailers as soon as possible.”
The Telegraph, meanwhile, dropped the paywall on its website for the weekend: “In light of last night’s assault on the free press, we have made the decision that all the Telegraph journalism published this weekend is now free to read on our website.”
Police and fire services at the scene, outside Broxbourne newsprinters as protesters continue to block the road, in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, England, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)
Extinction Rebellion claimed it was disrupting the press to “expose the failure of these corporations to accurately report on the climate and ecological emergency.”
Johnson, as well as Home Secretary Priti Patel, condemned the protest.
“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,” Johnson said in a tweet. “It is completely unacceptable to seek to limit the public’s access to news in this way.”
Extinction Rebellion has used extreme tactics, including the blocking of roads and bridges, in recent years as part of its efforts to push Britain to a more radical agenda fighting climate change. Last year, hundreds were arrested as they blocked roads and businesses as part of an “Autumn Uprising.”
The left-wing opposition Labour Party, in a statement to ITV, also criticized the press shutdown.
“A free press is vital for our democracy. People have the right to read the newspapers they want,” the party said. “Stopping them from being distributed and printers from doing their jobs is wrong.”
However, some of the party’s more radical members broke ranks. Zarah Sultana, MP for Coventy South, criticized the targeted newspapers, saying they “relentlessly campaign for right-wing politics, promoting the interests of the ruling class and scapegoating minorities.
“A free press is vital to democracy, but too much of our press isn’t free at all,” she said.
Conservative Health Secretary Matt Hancock, meanwhile, urged Brits to go buy a paper in response to the protest — tweeting a picture of himself carrying an armload of papers.
“Newspapers are already struggling — get out there & buy a paper to support the free press,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.