NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet tells the real story of the Paris demonstration …

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet joins journalists' unions in Paris. Pic: © Jess Hurd

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet joins journalists’ unions in Paris. Pic: © Jess Hurd

A few coach-loads of heads of state were brought to the first stage of the demo, five minutes before the start so they didn’t get cold. They posed for photographs arm in arm and then walked a couple of hundred yards and then they got into their buses and were whisked away.

So you can see why I’m slightly perplexed at any focus on them when three million working people and the trade union movement took to the streets to stand up for press freedom and to show that they will not be intimidated and made fearful by those who choose brutality and violence to get their message across.

The attack against Charlie Hebdo was not just an assault on the journalists killed. The assassins’ bullets were aimed squarely at free speech, one of the pillars of democracy. It was therefore an attack against democracy itself. And it is not just a problem for France alone, it is an issue for journalists all over the world.

This outrage has highlighted once again our concerns over the safety of journalists, and I reiterate my call to all heads of states and governments who were present today in Paris to take up more vigorously the fight against impunity and bring the killers of journalists to justice.

The NUJ and IFJ will step up our campaign to bring impunity to an end and ensure that the perpetrators of such crimes are punished.

The NUJ needed to be there yesterday to stand up for all of those journalists around the world who on a day-to-day basis face the kinds of threats, intimidation and attacks that we really have no comprehension of.

We will not accept the targeting of journalists and the threats of intimidation and violence that are commonplace in some parts of the world. We marched yesterday for global rights of freedom of expression, something that goes beyond borders.

NUJ placard outside the offices of Charlie Hebdo © Jess Hurd/reportdigital.co.uk

NUJ placard outside the offices of Charlie Hebdo © Jess Hurd/reportdigital.co.uk

Our day started with an early morning visit to  the offices of Charlie Hebdo where we  left the NUJ flag flying and one of the special placards we made up with the Je Suis Charlie version of our logo to pay tribute to colleagues who were killed on Wednesday.

We also did the same in the Place de la Republique and then met colleagues from our Paris Branch who were very happy that we were there to show solidarity and support to our sister unions.

We marched at the head of the demonstration – just behind the families of those killed last week and the remaining staff at Charlie Hebdo, together with international representatives of journalist unions and our sister unions in Paris.

We took every opportunity – including in the many interviews we did – to point out we were also marching for all journalists killed and targeted for their jobs, those 118 who were murdered in 2014 alone and the more than a thousand who lost their lives in the last decade.

I have had messages from sister unions in Africa, Pakistan and Latin America overnight thanking us for doing just that. And I know Arabic colleagues in Tunisia took time out of their meeting yesterday to watch the march on TV.

Together with our French sister unions we have also been unstinting in our comments about the need for unity, and for the trade union movement to lead the way in order to ensure no racial backlashes, something that journalists need to be hugely vigilant of and responsible in their reporting.

The day was genuinely awe-inspiring. We’re proud to have taken part in what will be remembered as a momentous day in history.

The international journalist community was out in force, proudly standing shoulder to shoulder with our French colleagues who organised the demonstration of a lifetime.

That three million people took to the streets, cheered on by Parisiens lining the boulevards and watching from their balconies, powerfully showed how the brutal killings this week have united people in defiance against those that choose violence as the way to get their message across.

We will not accept the targeting of journalists and the threats of intimidation and violence that are commonplace in some parts of the world. We marched yesterday for global rights of freedom of expression, something that goes beyond borders.

* Michelle Stanistreet is general secretary of the National Union of Journalists


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Michelle Stanistreet