London neighborhoods increasingly ‘off-limits’ to journalists

Life can be bumpy on Britain’s campaign roads. On May 3, Jerome Taylor, a “home news” reporter with the London daily The Independent went into the Bow borough of East London in order to look into allegations of widespread postal voting fraud. His bloodied nose and face appeared in the next day’s Independent.

While walking in the streets on his way to interview a candidate, he was suddenly accosted by a band of four to six teenagers who asked him for his notebook. When he refused, they punched him, knocked him to the ground, and brutally hit him with fists and feet and a traffic cone, he reported. The violence ceased when a neighbor was brave enough to confront the attackers, he said.

Taylor, whose beat at the Indy includes the coverage of ethnic and religious communities, knew the neighborhood well and had rarely felt threatened. However, due to the level of drug-related violence, the paramedics that treated him told that they rarely went into the area without a police escort.

Taylor was not attacked at random. He was not a stranger that happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. He was targeted because he was a journalist and his assailants appeared to have links with one of the local candidates, according to The Independent.

In London, as well as in some other European big cities, some neighborhoods—like the Paris banlieues—are increasingly off-limits for journalists, “red zones” where a press card, instead of opening doors, turns their holders into punching bags for gangs that do not want the media sniffing around. 

In Taylor’s case, the attackers beat up a journalist who wouldn’t be deterred—he went right back to the story. As Guardian media columnist Roy Greensdale commented: “It shows his guts that, in the end, he did manage to speak to the man he was seeking to interview about the alleged fraud—and whose house he was outside when attacked.”