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Boris Johnson Is Under Pressure To Condemn “Harassment” Of A Journalist Criticised By A Minister

Kemi Badenoch has come under fire over her comments to a journalist

4 min read

A media freedom group has written to Boris Johnson condemning the harassment of a HuffPost UK reporter who was publicly criticised by a minister.

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) group has urged the Prime Minister to take action after journalist Nadine White was publicly targeted by equalities minister Kemi Badenoch.

Badenoch accused White of being “creepy and bizarre” after she emailed questions asking why Badenoch was missing from a video encouraging people to receive a Covid-19 vaccine.

MFRR, which monitors violations of press freedoms in the EU and candidate countries, sent a letter to Mr Johnson urging MPs and ministers to “stop targeting journalists doing their job”.

Badenoch tweeted screenshots of White's emails to a government press department asking for a response, which is common journalistic practice, accusing White of “chasing clicks” and branding her request “irresponsible”.

White had not published a story on the matter, and had extended her deadline for a response.

The thread was shared by senior Conservative MPs, including former ministers Liam Fox and Anne-Marie Trevelyan, and Foreign Affairs Select Committee chair Tom Tugendhat, prompting White to make her Twitter account private following abuse.

“Reaching out to the subject of a journalistic report is an established and standard process for journalists to ensure all parties are accurately and fairly represented,” MFRR wrote in defence of White's actions.

“This is a vital step in establishing trust in journalism and it is deeply concerning that this process has been presented as something that undermines said trust.”

The group said this was “reinforced” by Badenoch’s decision to “screen grab” her emails and tag her twitter account in the posts.

MFRR said this decision “aided in the directing of online abuse towards Nadine White”.

“Online harassment targeted at journalists, disproportionately affecting women and journalists of colour, continues to threaten journalists, encouraging them to avoid important topics or step back from doing their job,” they said.

“The responsibility of politicians, most notably Ministers, to ensure their action does not contribute to these threats cannot be overstated.”

Badenoch's tweets have provoked widespread criticism from press freedom campaigners including National Union of Journalists, who described the minister’s behaviour as “frankly weird”.

But Downing Street has persisted in dismissing the complaint. Speaking earlier this week, Allegra Stratton, Boris Johnson’s press secretary defended the actions of the minister, saying Ms Badenoch had been “civil” to the reporter and that she had “grounds” for her comments on social media.

Jess Brammar, editor-in-chief of HuffPost UK has called for an apology from the government over Badenoch's tweets. 

"The government are insisting there is nothing to see here, but we really believe this is a line crossed in their relationship with the press," Brammer said. 

"If a minister makes a mistake, they should apologise and retract so we can all move on, but 5 days on those allegations are still there."

Last week HuffPost submitted a formal complaint to the Cabinet Office over the incident, but is yet to receive a response. 

Responding to the MFRR letter, an Equality Hub spokesman said: "The Minister has been working to encourage vaccine take up and confidence amongst those disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

"She believes that to instil confidence in the vaccine it is vital to remain unified and not undermine the message of promoting take-up amongst minority communities."

They added: "We want every eligible person to benefit from the offer of a free vaccine, no matter their ethnicity or religious beliefs.

"To ensure this happens the Government is pursuing a unified approach to public health messaging, as was demonstrated by the cross-party video released earlier this week."

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