Society welcomes call to promote global protection of journalists

Posted on: January 10, 2019 by Claire Meadows

The Society of Editors has welcomed news that a second international conference supporting journalistic freedoms around the world is likely be staged in London this year.

Former Media and Culture Secretary John Whittingdale MP announced yesterday (Wednesday, January 9) that he hoped to stage a conference organised by the British group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in London to run in parallel with a conference being organised by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the capital.

Both conferences will underscore the importance of press freedom globally and seek to highlight the growing threats to journalists around the globe he said. 

Mr Whittingdale was at a Westminster Hall debate where he expressed the hope that the UK would take the lead in defending press freedoms worldwide.

Society of Editors’ Executive Director Ian Murray commented: “Although the British media can raise an eyebrow when politicians here in the UK speak of press freedoms in the light of many recent attacks on such liberties on our shores, it is heartening to see a determined focus on Britain’s role in the world in such matters.

“The Society of Editors and other media bodies have often pointed to the UK’s reputation as a beacon of hope for people around the world who do not enjoy the support of a free press and the defence of democracy and barrier to corruption such institutions provide. Some in politics here have not always heeded that call, but it appears that the issue will be approached with renewed vigour in 2019.”

Leading the debate yesterday on the International Protection of Journalists, Mr Whittingdale said: “As the newly elected chair of the British group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, I intend to organise a parallel conference alongside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office one. While the FCO can try and reach agreement among Governments that more needs to be done on as wide a basis as possible, we can try to mobilise parliamentarians from different countries to give this priority. I look forward to working with the Minister in due course.”

Whittingdale also called on the government to do more to support the protection of journalists worldwide and condemned attacks on the press by elected politicians.  

He said: “There have been calls for a UN special representative for the safety of journalists. That would demonstrate the importance with which the issue is held by the UN. At present, it comes within a broader remit, but the specific appointment of somebody to highlight the safety of journalists would help. I understand that something like 30 countries have signed up to that proposition, so I hope the Government would consider adding our support in due course.”

Speaking of attacks on journalists by politicians the Conservative MP for Maldon said that the climate that provokes hostility towards journalism is, to some extent, encouraged by intemperate remarks from people who really should know better.

He said: “I do not want to single out President Trump but I think his attacks on journalism generally have not helped in this regard. When someone such as the President of Czech Republic holds up a mock assault rifle labelled “for journalists”, that clearly will lead to a climate in which journalists have reason to fear.”

Speaking ahead of the debate to PoliticsHome website, Whittingdale also condemned a recent incident when an MP spoke of threatening a reporter from The Times with a bat.

After the Westminster Hall debate, Mr Whittingdale said he hopes to establish an All-Party Parliamentary Group on the issue of global press freedom.

“I would like to see all of those governments where journalists have suffered imprisonment or worse to have it raised with them. I know the Foreign Office wants to do this but it’s not just the UK. We need to get an international agreement, that whenever a minister from a country that is visiting another country where this kind of thing has taken place, it should always be on the agenda. It should be routine to say – your record on protecting journalists is not good. It’s about putting pressure on countries to do more and to raise awareness of this issue.”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has established a special unit within the Foreign Office to look at press freedom and is planning to hold an international conference in London at a date to be announced.

Watch the debate in full here