Two days after writing my last blog (‘No happy new year for them’ – 7 January 2019) which highlighted the world wide attacks on media workers and journalism, Parliament held a one hour debate in Westminster Hall on the International Protection of Journalists. Called by Tory MP John Whittingdale, one time Culture Secretary and Chair of the Culture Select Committee, speaker after speaker highlighted the plight of many journalists under threat for just doing their work and the subsequent appalling state of journalism.
In introducing the debate Whittingdale paid tribute to the many journalists’ organisations which work for their protection including the NUJ and the International Federation of Journalists. He continued: “…Journalists play a vital role in a free society. Their role in exposing corruption, highlighting injustice and holding Governments to account helps to make a democracy function, but it does not always make them popular. Sadly, in authoritarian regimes, that often leads to imprisonment, being taken hostage, intimidation and sometimes even death…”
Many MPs contributed to the debate including Liz Saville-Roberts, chair of the NUJ Cross Party Parliamentary Group and Plaid Cymru Westminster Parliamentary Leader and Shadow Spokesperson on Home Affairs, who called for support to the call for a new United Nations convention on the protection of journalists and media workers.
Other MPs highlighted examples of harassment and suffering, arbitrary arrests, loss of passports, surveillance, imprisonment and murder of journalists, especially that of Jamal Khashoggi who was killed inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul last October (see my blog ‘Murdered with impunity’ – 14 November 2018).
Responding to the debate, Fabian Hamilton, Labour Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) pointed out that: “…Fewer than 10% of the killings of journalists end up with a prosecution. The impunity definitely exacerbates the cycle of violence against journalists. As we have heard, three countries—Turkey, China and Egypt—were responsible for more than half the journalists jailed globally. There has been an increase in politicians and other individuals labelling journalists as “enemies” and making false and damaging claims about the media…”
Closing for the Government, Mark Field, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, outlined government action to defend media freedom and announced that: “…We must also recognise that we cannot do all this work alone. That is why, later this year, we will host in London an international conference on media freedom. Our aim is to bring the issue to global attention, promote the value and benefits of a free media—indeed, a free internet—to a wider audience, and mobilise an international consensus behind the protection of journalists, as the obvious guardians of those freedoms…”
Whilst these moves are welcome, it should be remembered that defending journalism and journalists whilst promoting trading and arms deals with offending countries such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, reveals a degree of hypocrisy by government, for which they should be held to account. In addition, with the focus of the UK media on the Brexit ups and downs, little publicity has been given to this 9 January Westminster debate, so the article by Roy Greenslade in the Media section of the Guardian on 21 January (‘Press Freedom MPs are standing up for journalists – it’s a step forward’) is welcome. You can read it at: https://www.theguardian.com/media/commentisfree/2019/jan/20/mps-press-freedom-editors-reporters whilst the Westminster Hall debate can be read at: https://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2019-01-09a.186.2