As the union flag protest continues in Belfast, there was another sinister turn when it was revealed that a local journalist who had been writing about the issue was sent a bullet in the post. The bullet was intercepted before it reached the journalist. At the same time a bullet was sent to a leading SDLP politician and the home of an SDLP Councillor in Belfast was attacked. Since the start of the protest, some Alliance party politicians have also been targeted in a similar manner, specifically the East Belfast MP Naomi Long and Jutsice Minister David Ford. Bullets were also sent to two Sinn Féin representatives. Such intimidatory actions need to be condemned without reservation as they are a threat to democracy.
In a statement, the National Union of Journalists expressed grave concern at confirmation that the Police Service of Northern Ireland had intercepted a letter containing a bullet addressed to a Belfast-based journalist. The journalist was advised by the PSNI that the letter containing a bullet was intercepted at the weekend. The letter was sent following the journalist’s reporting of Loyalist rioting in Belfast. NUJ President Barry McCall described the letter as the latest in a series of despicable attempts to intimidate journalists working in extremely difficult circumstances in Northern Ireland. He said the posting of a bullet to a newspaper, addressed to a named journalist, represented an attack on journalism and on democracy. “This incident must be seen in the context of recent attacks on journalists and elected public representatives and should be condemned by all who support the democratic process”, he added. NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet said the incident emphasised the need for vigilance on the part of journalists and media organisations in Northern Ireland. She said employers and journalists – staff and freelance, needed to be alert to the very real dangers which arose when covering conflict situations. She said the lack of respect for the rights of journalists to work unimpeded presented a particular challenge. The bullet sent in the post was clearly indeed to send a signal to the media. “Over many years journalists have stood firm in the face of intimidation and they continue to do so”, she said.