The Society of Editors has called on all UK politicians to make actions worth more than just words in support of the vital role of the media on International Press Freedom Day (Friday, May 3).
The Society, which campaigns on behalf of press freedom, freedom of expression and the public’s right to know, said that although many of the nation’s political leaders were happy to speak of the freedom of the press, all too often there was insufficient practical support.
“It’s fitting that on this day when the UK puts itself forward as one of the nations where a free press is part of our national fabric and acts as an example to other nations, that politicians truly embrace what such words mean,” commented Ian Murray, executive director of the Society.
“All too often strong words in support of a free media are quickly forgotten when new laws on being considered to constrain what the public has a right to know.
“The Government has still to repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which if put into effect would cripple the media in this country by forcing newspapers to pay the costs of anyone who takes them to court even if they win. Promises have been made but nothing yet has happened.
“The proposed new On-Line Harms White Paper harbours threats to freedoms in the media and, although there have been soothing words coming from the Government, we should not be complacent and take for granted that when finally brought into law the Act will not severely restrict what newspapers and other media can report online.
“And while we tackle concerns over legislation from the present government, we need to be wary of threats to press freedom made by a future Labour administration where the leader has not responded to requests to elaborate on reported comments that changes must be made to the way the media operates. This remains a worrying prospect for the future,” said Murray.
The Society welcomes the government’s proposed international conference on press freedom to be held in London this summer but says that first the freedom of the media needs to be secured in this country.
“The international conference to be held in London should be a showcase for other nations where the media is oppressed and a free press is not allowed to flourish. But if the event is to truly have credibility then our own house needs to be put in order first,” added Murray.
To read more about this topic, the Independent’s recent article Jeremy Hunt’s sudden enthusiasm for media freedom is welcome – but the UK should look at its own track record first provides an interesting insight.