Why do the police want to stop us reporting?

Conrad Landin considers the vital role of New Internationalist – and asks for your support.
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Most readers of New Internationalist will know the importance of independent journalism that speaks truth to power – but sometimes it takes the reactions of the establishment to bring home just how vital it is.

In August 2021, I was reporting for our magazine about the failures of government to deliver a just transition to renewable energy. Outside Aberdeen Airport’s helicopter terminals, I interviewed oil workers who should be on the front line of delivering this transition. Their skills in fabrication, maintenance and support services, after all, will be vital to the infrastructure we need for green electricity generation. They were, without exception, frustrated by the broken promises of politicians and bosses who seem quite content to offshore these jobs and skills to the lowest bidder.

It’s the ability to do this kind of reporting, by both our editors and our hundreds of contributors across the globe, which makes New Internationalist special. But before I’d left the airport, I was stopped, questioned and detained by two police officers. They told me – incorrectly – that I was breaching airport bye-laws, cross-examined me about my reporting and made me stay until my name had been checked against the national crime database.

‘Our concern is that with an airport, and with the heliports, and given the fact that for renewables, oil and gas is not very well liked, in regards to some aspects of society,’ one of the officers told me. ‘Our issue is, is this going to be a problem, is this going to be a lead to a protest, is this going to cause the shutdown of the airport, and so forth, so that’s why we’re out here speaking to you now.’

When police officers suggested that our journalism could ‘lead to a protest’ or ‘cause the shutdown of the airport’, it spoke to a flagrant disregard for journalistic freedom, but it also highlighted the power that informative journalism can have

It was about as clear an admission of corporate policing as they come. Rather than policing in the interests of the public, Police Scotland was clumsily and pre-emptively acting on behalf of the oil and gas giants – and acting in a fashion which could intimidate independent media. At the Scottish Trades Union Congress last week, I moved a motion highlighting the police harassment of journalists which remains all too common.

The incident highlights that even with very limited resources, New Internationalist has the forces of power running scared. In my case, I was supported by my trade union, the National Union of Journalists, in complaining to Police Scotland and bringing the issue to prominence at the STUC. But other forms of state and corporate intimidation, such as libel writs, are harder for independent media to resist.

Our journalism is objective and fair – but, unlike much of the right-wing media, we acknowledge our politics. In a media landscape dominated by large corporations, it is only independent outlets like New Internationalist which offer an alternative to the conservative and neoliberal world views. In the face of spiralling inequality and existential threats to our future – most notably climate change – our stories seek to build empathy between readers across the world.

Where they seek to change readers’ minds, they do so through education – such as the fact spreads in each of our Big Stories – or through discussion – such as in the debate section of our magazine. And by informing, we seek to inspire. When police officers suggested that our journalism could ‘lead to a protest’ or ‘cause the shutdown of the airport’, it spoke to a flagrant disregard for journalistic freedom, but it also highlighted the power that informative journalism can have.

We are proud to be a non-profit organization owned by our workers and thousands of reader co-owners. The investment we received in our two successful community share offers has allowed us to make vital changes in how we work – including working far more closely with our readers and supporters. But there’s still so much to do – and subscriptions only cover 70 per cent of our running costs.

That’s why we’re now asking readers to consider making a regular donation to New Internationalist (LINK: newint.org/give), as we promised to do at the time of our last share offer. As well as supporting the costs of our journalism, regular gifts will now also support our new Solidarity Fund. This will provide subscriptions to schools, campaign groups and young activists. By growing our audience in this way, we can both increase our impact and equip a new generation of readers with the tools for change found in every issue of New Internationalist.

We know that our journalism will continue to provoke the ire of the global ruling class, but while we still see injustice in our world, we need a magazine that asks the questions they don’t want to hear.

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