BBC Newsnight political editor Nicholas Watt faced palpable hostility at an anti-lockdown rally on Downing Street and had to flee behind the police barrier from hecklers chasing him and calling him a “traitor.”
The encounter was filmed and released by a group called Resistance GB during a small Monday protest against Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to postpone the lifting of the lockdown in England by four more weeks. Watt approached the cameraman, apparently mistaking him for someone working for GB News, the freshly-launched opinionated news channel.
It didn’t take long after his mistake was clarified for the the Resistance GB crew to start accusing Watt of “reporting lies” about Covid-19 on behalf of the government while receiving his paycheck from the British public. The BBC editor, who wore his press card around his neck, declined to respond and tried to walk away.
The scene quickly escalated into a hectic chase by several participants of the rally. People hounded the journalist, booing at him, calling him a “traitor” and even grabbing him by the shoulder at one point. Watts eventually managed to escape, running to gain some distance from his pursuers and fleeing behind a police barrier guarding the prime minister’s residence.
Resistance GB didn’t hide its animosity towards the BBC and called Watt a “stooge” in the title of the video.
The incident was widely condemned by British media and public figures. Newsnight editor Esme Wren said it was “completely unacceptable” to harass and intimidate any journalist. Guardian columnist Owen Jones called the scene “disturbing” and a case study of radicalization of the public.
Harassing and intimidating any journalist is completely unacceptable. All journalists should be able to do their work without impediment or risking their safety #newsnight
— esmewren (@esmewren) June 15, 2021
“Various right-wing media outlets have given a platform to conspiratorial ideas about Covid-19, and now there’s an entire TV station to fuel them further,” he said in an apparent jab at GB News.
Tom Harwood, who works for GB News, was in agreement with his left-leaning colleagues. He called the footage “absolutely horrifying” and branded the hecklers “vile and intimidating thugs.”
MPs across the political aisle likewise condemned the incident. Tory MP Alicia Kearns shamed the “baying mob” and said “Nick Watt deserves better.” Labour’s Angela Rayner said she was “horrified by the video of [Watt] being abused for doing his job.”
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