Freedom of the press remains “annoying, frustrating and even dangerous” to powerful and influential figures, the BBC journalist Clive Myrie has told news leaders.
Speaking at the Society of Editors Media Freedom conference in London on Wednesday 15 March, Myrie, one of the corporation’s most renowned foreign correspondents, said that while the US was “a shining example of the toxicity of our modern age”, press freedom remained under attack worldwide most noticeably in China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
Highlighting the fact that the BBC had been forced to write to the White House asking for a review of the security arrangements for members of the press at former president Donald Trump’s rallies following attacks on reporters, Myrie also highlighted how, in China, “outside scrutiny remains a no-go zone” and its leaders “don’t care what this makes the country look like”.
Closer to home, Myrie criticised the arrest last year of LBC reporter Charlotte Lynch while covering protests by the climate group Just Stop Oil. Referencing confirmation last week that the government intended to add an amendment to the Public Order Bill offering a protection for journalists against the threat of arrest at protests following Lynch’s case, Myrie said the fact that the UK needed such a protection to be written into law in “a mature democracy” was “shameful”.
He added: “Charlotte was detained for 7 hours for doing her job. She was carrying her press credentials and an LBC-branded microphone. She admitted she was absolutely terrified throughout the ordeal. Charlotte’s amendment, now that it’s called, and her experience has led to a change in the Public Order Bill offering special protections for journalists covering protests. The fact that this amendment has to be written in our mature democracy, in 2023, is shameful and makes this country look no better than Russia or China or Iran. But at least we can say it was written.”
Speaking at the conference as the recipient of the Society’s Outstanding Contribution to Journalism Award, Myrie described the profession as a “noble craft” despite the fact that, for some, a “plurality of opinion is not what they want”.
He added: “Freedom of the press and media isn’t any longer, for some people, a signifier of a healthy democracy. For the powerful, for the zealous true believers in any political party, for financial backers and influencers, freedom of the press is annoying, frustrating, even dangerous. A plurality of opinion is not what they want, they seek propaganda and the bolstering of their own narrow point of view. They seek affirmation, not debate. They want to shut down conversations, not open them up. They are the true enemies of the people. They are the true enemies of democracy.”
Calling on the industry to “never apologise or regret what we do”, he also called for journalists to “fight for our rights to keep doing it”.