By Ian Murray
The Independent has launched a campaign to highlight the need to defend press freedom worldwide.
The digital publisher’s Journalism Is Not A Crime campaign follows the arrest and detention of the paper’s US chief correspondent Andrew Buncombe while covering Black Lives Matter protests in Seattle.
Yesterday it was confirmed that all criminal charges have been dropped against Buncombe who was assaulted by a prison guard while detained. His arrest led to international protests, including condemnation by the Society of Editors, and a complaint to the US administration by the UK Ambassador to America.
Launching its Journalism Is Not A Crime campaign, the papers said: “We are moved to do so most urgently by the recent experience of our correspondent, Andrew Buncombe. Reporting on the Black Lives Matter protests in Seattle and posing no threat to anyone, nor breaking any law, he was summarily detained with some brutality by the police.
“It is not so unusual, it seems, these days to see press freedom eroded. Some broadcast journalists have been filmed being interrupted and detained even as they were on camera. Amnesty International say there have been at least 60 reported arrests of journalists covering these protests in the US and some may face prosecution and jail sentences.
“This the kind of thing that is only supposed to happen in dictatorships. We are not so surprised when media organisations are attacked in Hong Kong, say, or parts of the Middle East, or when correspondents are assassinated in war zones, as was so tragically the case when Marie Colvin was killed during the siege of Homs in Syria.
“Yet what is, in its way, more disturbing, now, is when journalists are prevented from doing their jobs, treated as criminals on jumped up charges, in supposedly free societies such as the United States. The first amendment, after all, offers the constitutional basis for free expression and a press fair and free.
“The rise of authoritarian nationalist politicians has made things far worse, in America and elsewhere. The “mainstream media” are portrayed as part of some evil conspiracy against the people.”
The paper said that Britain was not immune to threats to journalism and sited the present administration’s attacks on the BBC.
|There is also the ongoing ban and boycott of The Dumbarton Democrat by West Dunbartonshire Council and the SNP.
The campaign also focuses on the financial threats to the media and its effects on the future viability of journalism.
The Independent’s Chief US correspondent Andrew Buncombe was detained, shackled and assaulted by a prison guard after being arrested on a charge of “failure to disperse” as local police sought to clear demonstrators in Seattle’s Cal Anderson Park.
Buncombe, who denied committing an offence, could have faced up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 (£4,000) fine, but Seattle’s deputy city attorney confirmed prosecutors will not be pressing charges.
Christian Broughton, the editor of The Independent, said: “We are delighted and relieved that Andrew Buncombe no longer faces charges – of course, he should never have been arrested in the first place.”
Bill Heaney, editor/publisher of The Dumbarton Democrat, which is a FREE independent digital platform, said: “This is good news for Buncombe and The Indie. I just wish West Dunbartonshire Council and the SNP would come into the real word and lift the boycott and ban on our publication.”