The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has called for and end to “bullying and abuse” of reporters covering the Scottish Independence referendum.
In a statement, the union said it had received numerous reports from it’s members that they were facing “hostility and threats” while trying to cover the vote and called for both sides to “rein in the abuse.”
The union also said that it had already advised some members to contact the police and that it would: “name and shame individuals and organisations that continue to threaten or bully our members.” It also said that the problem was on the increase both because the referendum was coming to a “frenzied close” and “the availability of social media, allowing contributors anonymity to make personal attacks on individuals.”
The intervention comes after hundreds of supporters of Scottish independence protested outside the headquarters of BBC Scotland against what they described as the corporations “bias” over the constitutional plebiscite. A particular target was BBC political editor Nick Robinson whom protestors demanded be sacked after a clash with Scottish First minister Alex Salmond and a press conference.
In the wake of the demonstration BBC staff in Glasgow have been advised to report any incidents which led them to feel: “threatened or intimidated.”
Speaking to The Drum, NUJ Scottish leader Paul Holleran said the abuse being directed at journalists was “beyond belief” and that reporters were facing offensive comments from both sides of the argument. Holleran added: “Robust debate is fine. Pointing out when journalists get their facts wrong is expected and welcomed. But NUJ members believe in a free press, a fair media, with journalists allowed to do their jobs free of intimidation. We hope the politicians and campaigners, and those who follow politics take this on board and act with a bit of maturity and understanding of the role of journalists in holding those in power to account.”
Commenting on the increasing level of intimidation journalists were experiencing on social media sites Holleran said: “What is totally unacceptable is the use of threats of violence. The NUJ has history of acting on this type of behaviour and Police Scotland has been supportive and has intervened when we have previously pursued such issues.”
At a press conference SNP leader Alex Salmond appeared to back the demonstrators saying:”I think there’s real public concern in terms of some of the nature and balance of the coverage.”
His deputy Nicola Sturgeon had previously sought to distance the yes campaign from the protest stating: “I would say to all to all yes supporters that we should spend every moment of those three days not protesting against something but campaigning for something, for a yes vote to give us the power to transform our country.”
Recent polling shows the election is too close to call with the result expected early on Friday morning.