Activist group Extinction Rebellion (XR) targeted both the plants, just north of London and near Liverpool in northwest England, causing delays to deliveries of papers including The Times, the Daily Telegraph and The Sun.
Dozens of activists blocked roads outside the sites using vehicles and by attaching themselves to other obstacles, “to expose the failure of these corporations to accurately report on the climate and ecological emergency”.
XR said it was aiming to disrupt newspapers that are part of News Corp., controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s family, as well as right-wing titles The Daily Mail and The London Evening Standard.
“The groups are using disruption and their consistent manipulation of the truth to suit their own personal and political agendas,” it added in a statement.
Police said they had so far made 72 arrests at the two locations.
Newsprinters, which runs the plants, said printing had been transferred to other sites and apologised to customers for “late deliveries”.
The Times also apologised to readers unable to buy copies and said on Twitter it was “working to get newspapers delivered to retailers as soon as possible”.
– ‘Completely unacceptable’ –
The blockade prompted an immediate backlash from across the British political establishment.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was “completely unacceptable to seek to limit the public’s access to news in this way”.
“A free press is vital in holding the government and other powerful institutions to account on issues critical for the future of our country, including the fight against climate change,” he said on Twitter.
His fiance Carrie Symonds, a former head of communications for the ruling Conservative party before becoming an environmental campaigner, also waded into the controversy.
“I care about climate change and biodiversity a massive amount but preventing a free press to spread this message further is just wrong,” she tweeted.
“Not to mention all those small businesses that rely on being able to sell newspapers.”
The main opposition Labour Party’s international trade spokesperson Emily Thornberry called the disruption “worrying”, noting elderly people could miss out on newspaper deliveries.
A spokeswoman for Newsprinters said the action had impacted many workers within the industry.
“Overnight print workers, delivery drivers, wholesale workers and retail newsagents have faced delays and financial penalty,” she added, noting it was “a matter for the police” and government.
– ‘Dear Mr. Murdoch’ –
Dee Patel, 41, who runs a small convenience store in Sevenoaks, southeast of London, said around 120 newspapers had failed to arrive, costing him hundreds of pounds in refunds for the papers and delivery fees.
“Customers keep calling, it’s a big pain and disruption. They’re upset,” he told AFP.
“It’s not the right way to protest – they should be trying to meet the government or something.”
XR said on Twitter it was sorry for disruption caused to newspaper retailers but was unrepentant about its targeting of the media conglomerates.
“Dear Mr. Murdoch, we are absolutely not sorry for continuing to disrupt your agenda this morning,” it added.
The group, which formed in Britain in 2018 before becoming a global protest movement, kicked off 10 days of renewed demonstrations across the country on Tuesday.
In its third major wave of UK protests in a year, it has targeted Westminster and several other sites so far this week, and is vowing to continue with further demonstrations in the coming days.
Police have been taking a tougher approach towards the group during this round of protests, imposing restrictions at sites and making hundreds of arrests.
Last year, more than 1,700 people were arrested during its 10-day “Autumn Uprising”, which saw major disruption across the UK and large parts of central London blocked off.
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