Demonstrators blocked access to two print works in Hertfordshire and Merseyside, causing delays to newspaper deliveries.
More than 70 people have been arrested following protests by climate activists from Extinction Rebellion (XR) outside two printing presses – which prevented the distribution of millions of national newspapers.
Demonstrators blocked access to two print works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, and Knowsley, near Liverpool, using vehicles and bamboo structures overnight into Saturday morning.
Seventy-two people were arrested across the two locations, police said, and delivery lorries were delayed from leaving.
The Newsprinters presses targeted print the Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corp’s titles including The Sun, The Times, The Sun On Sunday and The Sunday Times.
The Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, Daily Mail, Mail On Sunday, London Evening Standard and some Guardian supplements are also printed or processed at the sites. Both demonstrations ended around 11am.
The protests were condemned by the prime minister as “completely unacceptable”.
Boris Johnson tweeted: “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.”
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.”
XR claim the “mainstream media” is controlled by a small number of people, and that news corporations are guilty of “consistent manipulation of the truth to suit their own personal and political agendas”.
In central London, other members of the group completed a protest walk from Brighton to the capital with their boat “Lightship Greta”, named after teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg.
After days of demonstrations to highlight global warming, the Metropolitan Police seized the boat in Kennington, south London, and said they had arrested “more than 600 people” in connection with the protests.
Greta being dismantled😶, we are still just north of Kennington Park.#extinctionrebellion #wewanttolive #LightshipGreta pic.twitter.com/FKxZhtQKhh
— Lightship Greta (@LightshipGreta) September 5, 2020
Twenty people have also been reported for breaking coronavirus regulations, which now incurs a fine of £10,000, a force spokesman said.
The protests targeting the printing presses meant thousands of people who would normally get The Sun were unable to read an interview with Sir David Attenborough in which he explains why he supports Extinction Rebellion and what Sun readers can do to help reduce climate change.
The Telegraph says it has made its website free this weekend after the protests.
A statement said: “Production of The Telegraph titles was severely affected.
“Following the assault on the free press, we have made the decision that all the Telegraph journalism published this weekend is now free to read on our website until Monday morning and removed the paywall until then.”
The Times apologised to readers in a tweet, saying this morning that it was “working to get newspapers delivered to retailers as soon as possible”.
Newsprinters said it moved the work elsewhere but apologised to newspaper readers affected by the delay.
A spokesperson said: “Overnight printing at two Newsprinters plants was disrupted by activity by Extinction Rebellion. Thanks to other industry partners, printing was transferred to other sites.
“This attack on all of the free press impacted many workers going about their jobs. Overnight print workers, delivery drivers, wholesale workers and retail newsagents have faced delays and financial penalty.”
Meanwhile, Labour MP and former shadow cabinet member Dawn Butler initially tweeted in support of the protesters, but later deleted the post.
Her comment – “Bravo #Extinction Rebellion. Excellent work” – was criticised by other Twitter users, with Labour ex-cabinet minister Andrew Adonis saying: “I utterly disagree with this.”
The group in Hertfordshire put up bamboo structures around the entrance, preventing access to the printing site.
I utterly disagree with this pic.twitter.com/GUdFDNlOmm
— Andrew Adonis (@Andrew_Adonis) September 5, 2020
A Sky News producer at the scene said there were lines of vans queued up along the road to the site, waiting to collect newspapers.
Hertfordshire Police said: “Our officers are engaging with the group, which consists of around 100 people, and we are working to facilitate the rights of both the protesters and those affected by their presence.”
In a tweet, the force said it had made 42 arrests.
Merseyside Police said 30 arrests had been made there. “Two vans and a boat used to cause obstruction” were removed, a spokesman added.
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Extinction Rebellion activist Gully Bujak, 27, said: “You cannot have a functioning democracy with a mainstream media that is ruled by a small, unrepresentative sect of society, who are in bed with politicians and the fossil fuel industry.
“The climate emergency is an existential threat to humanity. Instead of publishing this on the front page every day as it deserves, much of our media ignores the issue and some actively sow seeds of climate denial.
“They thrive off of polarisation and division. They sow hatred in order to distract us, actively profiting from this division.
“To these papers we say this: you will not come between us anymore. For a night we’re going to filter out the lies and take the power back. For a night we’re going to show the world that you are vulnerable, just like us.”