Extinction Rebellion protesters have blockaded major printing presses to stop a range of newspapers reaching news stands.
More than 100 protesters used vehicles to block roads outside the printing works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, and Knowsley, near Liverpool.
The printing presses publish Rupert Murdoch titles including The Sun, The Times, The Sun on Sunday and The Sunday Times, as well as The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday.
It is also the same print works used for the FT, a number of local newspapers, and The New European.
Campaigners unveiled a banner reading ‘free the truth’, with XR tweeting that it was planning action to expose ‘failure to report on the climate & ecological emergency, and their consistent manipulation of truth to suit their own agendas’.
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‘Coverage in many of the newspapers printed here is polluting national debate on climate change, immigration policy, the rights and treatment of minority groups, and on dozens of other issues,’ the group said.
Society of Editors executive director Ian Murray branded the protest ‘foolish and anti-democratic’.
He said: ‘The irony of protesters who wish to have their voices heard and their message listened to attempting to silence others by preventing the distribution of newspapers would be laughable if it was not so serious.
‘You have to wonder whether those planning and taking part in these foolish actions understand anything from history; that controlling or shutting down free speech and an independent media is the first action of totalitarian regimes and dictators.
‘Everyone has the right to peacefully protest and make their voices heard, after all that is what a free press is all about. But it is not acceptable for those who wish only their voices to be heard to attempt to silence others.
‘The UK’s media has provided an enormous amount of coverage on the issue of climate change, exploring the arguments from all angles.
‘This attempt to blackmail the media into slavishly repeating the claims of one side of the debate while ignoring criticism of it will fail but displays a poor understanding of how the freedoms that allow organisations like Extinction Rebellion to protest are protected through the very free press they are attacking.’
Politicians also joined the criticisms of the protesters.
Jo Stevens, shadow digital, culture, media and sports secretary, said: ‘A free press is vital for our democracy. People have the right to read the newspapers they want.
‘Stopping them from being distributed and printers from doing their jobs is wrong.’
Shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry said the printing press protest was ‘very worrying’ amid concerns elderly people may miss out on newspaper deliveries.
She told Times Radio: ‘I don’t really know what it is that is expected to be achieved and I know that for many older listeners it’s very much part of their daily life, getting their paper delivered in the morning and I just think it’s wrong.’
Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood said the protesters had ‘lost sight of how to campaign’.
He added: ‘The government has done much itself but obviously could do more and we need to work with the people to get that message across so we all can be more aware of the carbon footprint that we create.
‘But what they’re doing here is to alienate more people. I fear the organisation itself has been hijacked.’