Liberty is under attack as journalists are silenced, say MPs

09 September 2019

In its Report on global media freedom the Foreign Affairs Committee say good journalism is an essential pillar of democracy through scrutiny and challenge.

The decline of a free press – and the willingness of political leaders to attack journalists and media organisations – is a development of concern to all.

The Report sets out ten recommendations to the Foreign Office to strengthen the work of journalists and to preserve and protect media freedom – an 'endangered liberty'.

Those who violate media freedom should be shamed and punished

An average of one journalist died every four days during 2008-2018 due to their work, according to UNESCO. Most were not killed while reporting on war, but deliberately targeted. Their deaths overwhelmingly go unpunished.

A key recommendation is the use of economic sanctions or travel bans to punish abusers of the media. Unlike Canada, the FCO's partner in this summer's Global Conference for Media Freedom, the UK has not imposed sanctions following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, although the Department's written submission to the inquiry referred to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi "by Saudi Arabia" possibly for the first time.

The Committee welcomes the Government's stated intention to establish an autonomous UK human rights sanctions regime on leaving the EU, outlined in the Government's Response to its (June 2019) Report on the future of the UK's sanctions regime and published today.

More must be done to protect journalists from online threats and harassment

In evidence to the inquiry, MPs heard directly from media workers about harassment, intimidation, brutal attacks and imprisonment. The loss of earnings and the collapse of traditional financial models of funding journalism risk making the profession vulnerable to corruption, self-censorship, or being silenced by vested interests. The Report urges the FCO to put online and digital threats to journalists at the heart of its strategy.

While the Report welcomes the work begun by the Foreign Office, including hosting a Global Conference in London in July, the Committee concludes that current initiatives are too reliant on the word and goodwill of those with a record of abusing the media, especially on governments who have been among the worst perpetrators.

Democracy is not just about votes, it's how we talk to each other

Chair of Committee, Tom Tugendhat MP, commented:

"When journalists lose their rights, we all do. Democracy is not just about votes, it's how we talk to each other, how we give opinions a voice. That's why the media matters. It challenges the lie that there is such a thing as 'the will of the people'. In every community and country, the people have many, different, opinions and a free press is essential to ensure they can be heard.

We have been struck by the quality and range of the testimony offered by journalists and their supporters, from Afghanistan to Zambia, and we thank them for their contributions.

The FCO's work in this area is well-intentioned but falls short of what's needed – short on resources, short on detail and short on sustained commitment. The Global Conference was a good start and today's response to our Sanctions report is welcome. However, working structures are required to maintain impact.

The UK should call out poor treatment of journalists. Some think our Government is prioritising trade over human rights. We need to be clear that those who violate media freedom must be punished. This must extend to those who project their abuse online and across borders, with the result that no journalist is safe, even if they work from a 'free' country."

The Report is published to coincide with the British Group Inter-Parliamentary Union’s International Parliamentary Seminar on Media Freedom which takes place in Parliament on 9th-11th September.

Further information

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