Hertfordshire’s police and crime commissioner has suggested reporters covering Just Stop Oil protests are “part of the problem” after three journalists were arrested by the force this week while reporting on the climate group’s partial M25 shutdown.
In comments made on Nick Ferrari’s LBC radio show on Thursday morning, Tory police and crime commissioner David Lloyd offered a vague apology for the arrests, saying police had “got it wrong on that occasion”, but defended officers making a decision in a “difficult situation”.
Lloyd claimed he supports a “free press”, but went on to seemingly imply that journalists should reduce their coverage of direct action by groups like Just Stop Oil – including disrupting traffic on one of England’s busiest motorways – and moderate the “oxygen of publicity”.
“We do need to think where they [Just Stop Oil] sit on the front pages in newspapers, and where they sit within reporting that LBC is doing,” Lloyd said.
“I think your editorial policy needs to reflect whether or not we want to be part of the problem, which is how Just Stop Oil are managing to get their message out there so very successfully.”
When pressed by Ferrari on whether the police boss – whose role is to hold the force “to account” – was suggesting that reporters shouldn’t cover these events, Lloyd said the issue was “nuanced” and suggested treating coverage of climate activists as if they were people “trying to commit suicide”.
“When we have people who have mental health issues and are using those very same bridges and gantries because they wish to harm themselves, we don’t have as the lead story on any main media outlets that someone is standing there trying to commit suicide,” said Lloyd.
“We find ways of telling people that the motorway is closed that there is an incident but we don’t give those people – because they’re not seeking it of course – but we don’t say you know someone is trying to commit suicide.
“I think that we handle that appropriately. I think we’ve just got to ask ourselves as a society, if we are handling the Just Stop Oil appropriately by giving them the oxygen of publicity.”
Lloyd – who has served as police and crime commissioner of Hertfordshire constabulary since 2012 – also said he had been brought onto LBC as a “sacrificial lamb”. LBC reporter Charlotte Lynch was one of three journalists arrested over two days by Hertfordshire police on grounds of “suspicion of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance” as she reported on Just Stop Oil’s latest action.
Lynch was held for five hours on Tuesday before being released. Other journalists arrested on Monday were filmmaker Rich Felgate, who is making a documentary about Just Stop Oil, and photographer Tom Bowles. The pair were held for 13 hours and released without charge. Police also searched Bowles’ family home.
The detentions prompted an intervention by Downing Street, with a spokesperson for prime minister Rishi Sunak saying it was “vital” journalists were able to “do their jobs freely without restriction”.
Prior to Lloyd’s appearance on LBC, Hertfordshire police’s chief constable Charlie Hall promised an inquiry into the arrests and said “additional measures” were in place to ensure “legitimate media” could do their job.
In May, Lloyd welcomed the introduction of new protest laws currently going through parliament, saying: “I recognise and respect the right to protest as a cornerstone of everybody living in a free country. But over the last few years Hertfordshire in particular has seen a rise in protester activity purely aimed at causing maximum disruption to many thousands of people who are just trying to go about their everyday business.”
In a statement issued to Novara Media, Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists said:
“The commissioner’s apparent desire to influence editorial lines instead of recognising the work of journalists as fundamental to upholding a free press is of grave concern. Shifting blame onto editors publishing content that is clearly in the public interest, fails to recognise the severity of recent incidents and their wider impact on the public’s right to stay informed.”
This piece was updated on 10 November at 2.14pm to include a statement from the NUJ.
Moya Lothian-McLean is a contributing editor at Novara Media.