The union for journalists in Northern Ireland has offered to meet political representatives of the UDA following a death threat to a Belfast-based reporter.
The overture from the National Unionist of Journalists (NUJ) to meet the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG) — the self-styled political ‘advisers’ to the UDA — came despite a statement from the terror group denying any specific threat.
But NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet said that the fact that the reporter’s name had been painted on walls on strategically placed locations was a clear indication that the intention was to intimidate an investigative journalist. She said: “The very direct threat to his life cannot be ignored. In so far as the UDA statement goes, we are giving it a guarded welcome,” she said.
NUJ Irish Secretary Seamus Dooley said the threat was “not imaginary, it does exist.”
Their comments came after a UDA statement denied “any threat, inferred or otherwise” to the journalist.
“The Ulster Defence Association respects the freedom of the Press and the right of all journalists to carry out and pursue their profession free from intimidation or threat,” it said.
The reporter was not identified by the NUJ but was named in the UDA statement.
His personal mobile phone number and name were daubed on a gable wall in Bangor’s Kilcooley estate.
And the graffiti claimed he was a “republican supporter”.
Mr Dooley said the NUJ is prepared to meet with the UPRG.
“Threats to workers, whatever role they perform, have no place in a democratic society,” he said.
Condemnation of the threat was led by Amnesty International. Northern Ireland programme director Patrick Corrigan said: “All over the world, journalists are arrested, threatened and killed for working in the frontline of defending freedom of expression.
“Guaranteeing freedom of expression must be a cornerstone of a peaceful and just society.”
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt called on the UDA leadership to state if the threat had been officially sanctioned by the organisation and if so for it to be withdrawn.
Meanwhile, it has emerged a photographer who works in the south Down area was assaulted in broad daylight last week after being warned by police of a threat.
“Media workers must be allowed to carry out their functions and to ask difficult, probing questions without fear of death threats. If the UPRG can assist us in our aim of making Northern Ireland a safer place for journalists we are happy to meet with them.” — NUJ Irish Secretary Seamus Dooley