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Extinction Rebellion Faces the Ugly Side of the Press

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The established media has been determined to stir up concerns that XR’s big four-day action will disrupt the London Marathon, writes Stephen Colegrave

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This weekend is a big one for Extinction Rebellion (XR). More than 50,000 of its supporters are due to be in Westminster as part of the biggest XR action since lockdown to highlight “the joint climate and political crisis in the UK”. But read most of the press, and you would think XR is coming to the capital with the sole purpose of disrupting Sunday’s London Marathon. 

Headlines, such in the Mirror – ‘London Marathon Chief Sends Pleas to Protest Groups Ahead of “Unique Race”’ – have fuelled concern that XR intends to disrupt the marathon. This has not been helped by Government ministers, such as Energy Secretary Grant Shapps, condemning XR for risking “creating mass disruption” of the annual run.

Not satisfied with accusing XR of disrupting the Marathon, yesterday the Sun followed XR co-founder, Gail Bradbook, to the supermarket and ‘exposed’ her as an “eco-hypocrite who has diesel car and buys imported food in non-recyclable packaging”. 

In fact, XR has been extremely diligent in doing everything it can to avoid risking any disruption of the London Marathon.

It has been in dialogue with the Marathon organisers since November to make sure both the event and its action can be held at the same time and support one another. Indeed, many of the marathon runners are raising money for causes that support climate action.

But perhaps the press’ reaction is more to do with the fact that some of XR’s actions have been aimed at the established media? 

In September 2020, an XR demonstration at the Murdoch-owned news-printing site at Broxbourne stopped 3.5 million copies of national newspapers – including the Daily Mail, the SunThe Times and the Telegraph – from being distributed. Indeed, it later came out in court that then Home Secretary, Priti Patel, had personally intervened to try to stop the demonstration by lobbying the area’s chief constable. 

Writing about XR protests in the same month of the Murdoch action, Patel claimed: “We must defend ourselves against this attack on capitalism, our way of life and ultimately our freedoms.”

This connection between those in positions of political power and the press, in their mutual dislike of XR, is symptomatic of the same cosy relationship Byline Times was created to highlight and expose.

It was seen most recently in the hundreds of millions of pounds of COVID subsidies that were given to much of the national press by Boris Johnson’s Government during the early days of the pandemic, when newspaper sales were in freefall. It was Johnson’s former chief advisor Dominic Cummings who let the cat out of the bag more than a year later, when he claimed that the subsidies were “bungs” that were later “dressed up as COVID relief”.

XR’s protests in Westminster’s Tufton Street have also highlighted the connection between think tanks and lobbying groups that oppose climate action and the Government, further enraging it and its press friends. 

The vilification of XR has even led to near hysterical headlines such as that in the Express last January, when it declared: ‘Extinction Rebellion Plotting To Launch A “COUP”’.

For this weekend’s action, XR has brought together more than 200 organisations including such ‘subversive’ organisations as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the Quakers of Britain. The collective membership of these groups runs into many millions of potential voters and readers, so perhaps the establishment should take note.


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