20/08/2012 15:07 BST

Ulster Loyalist Group, UDA, Denies Making Death Threat To Journalist

Northern Ireland Loyalists have denied making a death threat against a Belfast-based journalist.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said the warning had been issued by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA).

However, a spokesman for the Ulster Political Research Group in west Belfast, which advises the paramilitary organisation, said: "We consider anybody getting threatened to be absolutely not right and we are totally against any threats against any journalist."

The journalist's name has not been released but the NUJ has appealed to anyone with influence with the group to have the threat withdrawn.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt is a former television journalist. He said the threat was "totally unacceptable and must be condemned unequivocally".

He called on the UDA leadership to state if the threat was officially sanctioned by the organisation and if so, to withdraw it and to make clear its opposition to such menaces.

"A free press is the cornerstone of any democracy and any threat to a journalist is totally unacceptable and must be condemned unequivocally," Mr Nesbitt said.

"No one is above public scrutiny and when anyone believes that media reporting becomes inaccurate, misleading or distorted, there are mechanisms in place to seek redress. Threatening murder offers no vision for the future."

The UDA is the largest of Northern Ireland's paramilitary groups.

It announced a ceasefire in October 1994 but in following years underwent a series of feuds and splits.

The UDA said it categorically denied any threat, inferred or otherwise, against the journalist.

"The Ulster Defence Association respects the freedom of the press and the right of all journalists to carry out and pursue their profession free from intimidation or threat," it said.

Another UPRG spokesman, Frankie Gallagher, added: "We are committed to a peaceful future and a democracy in which the freedom of the press is essential."

Seamus Dooley, Irish secretary of the NUJ, said journalists were shocked by the threat to the union member and were inundated with messages of support.

"We are available to meet with the Ulster Political Research Group to discuss our concerns. We welcome the high level of support from all sections of the community in Northern Ireland," he said.

"Threats to workers, whatever role they perform, have no place in a democratic society. Media workers must be allowed to carry out their functions and to ask difficult, probing questions without fear of death threats.

"If the UPRG can assist us in our aim of making Northern Ireland a safer place for journalists we are happy to meet with them."