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10 September 2019

MPs Call For Greater Action To Defend Press Freedom

MPs have called for the Government to do more to defend press freedom in the UK and overseas as journalists are targeted with violence and intimidation, and the industry faces disruption caused by the tech giants.

In a report on the Foreign Office’s campaign to defend media freedom, which included hosting the Global Conference in London in July, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee welcomed the work done by the FCO but said it fell short of what was needed to create a sustained impact.

The Committee said 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.”

Committee chair Tom Tugendhat MP (pictured) said: "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 made 10 recommendations for improving the campaign including that the FCO should consider further measures to address the financial weakness of media organisations,  and that the FCO must now demonstrate the impact, and sustainability, of its policies and initiatives.