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Action condemned by MPs

Extinction Rebellion arrests after newspaper blockade

Demonstrators outside a Murdoch-owned plant in Hertfordshire

Climate change protestors were arrested for staging a blockade that halted the delivery of a number of national newspapers.

Criticism came from politicians and media groups that the demonstration was an attack on democracy.

Members of Extinction Rebellion prevented vehicles leaving printworks in England and Scotland, leaving retailers’ without copies of the SunTimesSun on Sunday and Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, as well as the London Evening Standard. It is understood 1.5 million newspapers were undelivered.

Banners reading “Free The Truth” and “5 Crooks Control Our News” were on display.

Police said about 72 activists had been arrested, while the blockade in Lanarkshire was cleared at about midnight with no arrests.

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A statement from News UK, which publishes the Murdoch titles, said: “Total print run last night for the impacted print plants was due to be just under three million.

“No newspapers left those sites and other printers around the country printed and distributed as much as they could take. This happened late, hence the late deliveries to retailers.”

Chris Evans, editor of The Telegraph, said: “I’m very concerned by the attack on free speech. Whatever your politics, you should be worried by this. There are also questions for the police who perhaps placed the right of these few people to protest above the right of the rest of the people to read a free press.”

The demonstrators said they were exposing “a failure to adequately report on the climate emergency”, but their actions in North Lanarkshire, Merseyside and Hertfordshire were condemned by politicians from across the political spectrum.

Prime minister, Boris Johnson, said: “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. It is completely unacceptable to seek to limit the public’s access to news in this way.”

The Labour MP Dawn Butler initially sent a tweet congratulating the demonstrators, saying: “Bravo Extinction Rebellion”, but she later deleted it.

The Labour party subsequently issued a statement sharing the Prime Minister’s view. “A free press is vital for our democracy. People have the right to read the newspapers they want. Stopping them from being distributed and printers from doing their jobs is wrong,” it said.

There are government plans for a new “subversion power” to protect “critical national infrastruture”, treating access to parliament, printing plants and courts as key pillars of democracy.

Extinction Rebellion released a statement, stating: “Our free press, society and democracy is under attack – from a failing government that lies to us consistently.

“Our leaders have allowed the majority of our media to be amassed in the hands of five people with powerful vested interests and deep connections to fossil fuel industries. We need a free press but we do not have it. They have failed us.”

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