It is critical to democracy that journalists are free to do their jobs without fear of attack and intimidation.

On 15 June, BBC Newsnight journalist Nick Watt was harassed, chased and harangued by anti-lockdown protesters in London. Footage released via social media shows protestors shouting “traitor”, “scum” and accusing Watt of lying about lockdowns being legal.

The incident has been condemned by the BBC’s Director-General, who said in a statement: “The safety of journalists is fundamental to democracy – they must be able to report unhindered, free from abuse”.

But this is far from an isolated incident. Other PMA members are among the many news outlets who have experienced a surge in threats towards journalist safety and wellbeing – both online and in the field – throughout 2020 and 2021, despite their critical role in informing the public during the pandemic.

From the lack of PPE to the use of hostile and inflammatory language by those in power to stoke tensions and anti-news media discourse, the pandemic has both compounded and created new threats for journalists.

Last year, the UK government launched a National Action Plan for the Safety of Journalists following a growth in attacks. Among the pledges is a plan to improve police training. However, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) raised concerns about the apparent inaction of police standing close to the vicinity of Nick Watt’s harassment.

Speaking to The Guardian, NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “It is genuinely shocking that a man escaping a mob screaming at him, shouting traitor and calling him scum, didn’t result in the police immediately intervening. Action should be taken against these thugs. No one should have to tolerate such abusive behaviour and harassment simply for doing their job.”

While PMA welcomes the UK Prime Minister’s condemnation of yesterday’s incident, in which he described journalists as “the lifeblood of democracy”, it is essential that such statements go beyond implied sentiment and result in real protection for journalists and a greater understanding of their critical role in democratic society by both politicians and authorities.

Earlier this month the UK government launched a consultation as part of their National Action Plan to better understand the threats facing reporters. All journalists are encouraged to share their experiences of abuse.

Header Image: LONDON- APRIL, 2019: The BBC or British Broadcasting Corporation headquarters building on Portland Place. Credit: Willy Barton/