Media freedom violators must be punished, says UK report

Updated September 09, 2019


Proposed measures include sanctions. — AFP/File
Proposed measures include sanctions. — AFP/File

LONDON: Those who violate media freedom should be shamed and punished through international coordination and sanctions, according to a hard-hitting report by the UK government’s influential Foreign Affairs Committee.

The report, which refers to evolving physical, virtual and financial threats faced globally by journalists, urges the Foreign Office to support journalists by setting out 10 key recommendations.

These include asking the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to consider supporting an international mechanism to investigate and punish the abuse of journalists if governments fail to do so; asking it to do more to publicly shame and sanction those who persecute the media; and also recommending that the FCO coordinate more closely with the Home Office to issue visas for under-threat journalists and their families.

Proposed measures include sanctions

The report cites examples from several countries, including Pakistan, where it notes that the future for press freedom is bleak.

“The UK should call out poor treatment of journalists,” says committee chair, MP Tom Tugendhat. “Some think our government is prioritising trade over human rights. We need to be clear that those who violate media freedom must be punished.”

While the 13 MPs who were members of the committee that published the report acknowledge the Foreign Office’s intention to address the issue of press freedom, the document notes that movement on the issue has been slow and that there is scant detail on the next steps.

The Foreign Affairs Committee is appointed by the House of Commons to hold the Foreign Office accountable for its expenditure and policy. The committee chooses its own inquiries, which then receive evidence from witnesses. The committee’s findings are then published as a report.

The report Media freedom is under attack: The FCO’s defence of an endangered liberty drew evidence from witnesses including journalists from various countries as well as those from the BBC. The Unesco chair on media freedom was among the witnesses who gave evidence before the committee.

Among the examples of cases which were repeatedly cited by witnesses was the failure of the FCO to stand up in the case of Jamal Khashoggi. “The FCO had not done enough to publicly criticise the Saudi authorities over the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018,” the report states.

Scott Griffen, a witness who is the deputy director at the International Press Institute (IPI), warned that “many of the gains of the past few decades are in danger of being reversed”.

The report was published to coincide with the British Group Inter-Parliamentary Union’s (BGIPU) international parliamentary seminar on media freedom which will take place in the UK parliament from Sept 9 to 11.

The committee also asked the Foreign Office to consider measures to address the financial weakness and vulnerability of media organisations around the world. “Around the world, vested interests are exploiting the financial weakness of journalists to achieve financial dependence on — and therefore editorial obedience to — themselves,” the report noted.

Mr Griffen of the IPI told the committee that governments were among the perpetrators, as they “withhold state advertising from critical media”. He also reported that “there is still some scepticism about how public the FCO will be about standing up for media freedom”.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2019