Climate Protesters Disrupt British Newspaper Distribution

September 5, 2020 Updated: September 5, 2020

The distribution of several British newspapers was delayed on Saturday morning after Extinction Rebellion (XR), an environmental activist group, blockaded their printing plants. The movement said they were trying to “free the truth” that was “being held hostage” by the media.

Home Secretary Priti Patel and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was “unacceptable” to blockade the free press. Other Members of Parliament (MP) across the political spectrum also criticized the blockade.

The Times of London, one of the papers affected, apologized early Saturday to its readers for possible delays.

“We apologise to readers who may be unable to buy their usual newspaper this morning,” The Times wrote on Twitter.

“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.”

Extinction Rebellion UK
Two protesters attached to bamboo and two sitting on the roof of a van block the road, outside Broxbourne Newsprinters, in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, England, on Sept. 5, 2020. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)

XR on Friday night said around 80 activists blocked two printing plants with vehicles and bamboo lock-ons at Broxbourne, a town in Hertfordshire, Northeast England, and Knowsley, a metropolitan borough in Merseyside, Northwest England. News Corp, one of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch’s organizations, owns the printing plants, which XR says are “home to The Sun, The Times, Sun on Sunday, Sunday Times, as well as The Daily Mail, and The London Evening Standard.”

A Newsprinters’ spokeswoman said the disruption meant printing had to be transferred to other sites.

“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,” she said.

“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.”

Extinction Rebellion UK
Police and fire services at the scene outside Broxbourne Newsprinters as protesters continue to block the road, in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, England, on Sept. 5, 2020. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)

By Saturday morning, Hertfordshire police said they had made 42 arrests, while Merseyside police said they had made 21.

‘Climate Emergency’ Should be ‘On the Front Page Every Day,’ XR Activist

XR said it was disrupting the newspapers “to expose the failure of these corporations to accurately report on the climate and ecological emergency, and their consistent manipulation of the truth to suit their own personal and political agendas.”

The group’s press release said “the right-wing media is a barrier to the truth” that pollutes “national debate on climate change” and some other issues. It went on to quote  27-year-old activist Gully Bujak, saying the “climate emergency is an existential threat to humanity” that deserves to be published “on the front page every day.”

Extinction Rebellion UK
Extinction Rebellion demonstrators hold up a banner in Trafalgar Square, in London, on Sept. 5, 2020. (Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

The activists said that monopoly in media undermines democracy.

The blockade of UK newspapers is part of a global “media actions,” of which XR Australia had “lit the first beacon,” according to the group.

Disruption an ‘Attack’ on Free Press, UK Politicians

Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel, on the other hand, said the blockade was an “attack” on democracy.

“This morning people across the country will be prevented from reading their newspaper because of the actions of Extinction Rebellion,” she wrote in a retweet of The Time’s apology.

“This attack on our free press, society, and democracy is completely unacceptable.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson echoed Patel’s statement.

“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 wrote in a tweet.

“It is completely unacceptable to seek to limit the public’s access to news in this way.”

Labour MP Emily Thornberry said she doesn’t know what the blockade can achieve and this is “wrong” and “worrying.”

“This is very worrying and I don’t really know what it is that is expected to be achieved and I know that for many older listeners it’s very much part of their daily life, getting their paper delivered in the morning, and I just think it’s wrong,” Thornberry told Times Radio on Saturday morning.

The Sun, one of the newspapers disrupted, promoted on Twitter an article on the climate in its Saturday edition, “which Extinction Rebellion protesters tried to prevent from reaching our readers with their attack on free speech.”

Sir David Attenborough
Sir David Attenborough speaks at the launch of the UK-hosted COP26 UN Climate Summit at the Science Museum in London, on Feb. 4, 2020. (Jeremy Selwyn/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The article features an exclusive interview with David Attenborough, an English broadcaster and natural history expert. Attenborough said he believed that “the natural world is under serious threat and the consequences could be apocalyptic.”

Attenborough does not, however, agree with making environmental impact the sole measurement for everything.

“If you behave sensibly, you shouldn’t feel guilty that it has cost you some ergs (units of energy) to get from A to B. You can’t justify everything by the cost to the environment,” he told The Sun.

“Being wasteful, that is the real sin. We are astonishingly wasteful,” Attenborough said.

10-Day Disruption

XR planned a 10-day disruption in the UK from Sept. 1, the first day MPs returned to work from summer recess, after staying quiet for a few months during the lockdown measures to curb the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus.

Extinction Rebellion UK
A family walk past as activists take part in a demonstration outside Buckingham Palace, as part of protests by the Extinction Rebellion climate change group on the fifth day of their new series of ‘mass rebellions’, in central London on Sept. 5, 2020 (Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)

Demonstrators have blocked roads and bridges in several British cities since Monday and glued themselves to parliament building entrances and pavements. Hundreds of people have been arrested.

Ahead of the protests, XR removed two apocalyptic statements from their film claiming that “climate breakdown is already killing 400,000 people every year,” and “scientists warn that human extinction is a real possibility,” after the group was challenged to provide evidence for the statements.

“Since these statements still prove to be a matter of debate and we would like the film to be robustly backed by the Scientists of XR, we have decided to review these statements and update them for the relaunch of the film,” Serena Schellenberg, the film’s producer, told The Times of London.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report