Ministers 'falling short' on commitment to protect journalists worldwide, MPs warn

Posted On: 
9th September 2019

Ministers are “falling short” on their commitment to protect journalists worldwide, MPs have warned.

One journalist died every four days on average in a decade, according to UNESCO

A cross-party group has called for economic sanctions and travel bans to be used to punish abusers of the media, and to send a message around the world that the UK will prioritise human rights over trade.

In a report by the Foreign Affairs Committee, MPs said current initiatives are “too reliant” on the word and goodwill of those abusing the media, with governments among the worst perpetrators.

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According to UNESCO, one journalist died every four days during 2008-2018 on average due to their job, with most of them deliberately targeted.

Committee chair Tom Tugendhat said: “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.”

MPs pressed the need for sanctions as they flagged the UK’s lack of economic action following the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“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,” MPs said.

However the report also welcomed the Government’s work in hosting a global conference on media freedom in July.

The group further recognised the threat of corruption and self-censorship of journalists due to the collapse of traditional funding models for media, and loss of earnings.

The report urged the ministers to put online and digital threats to journalism at the “heart of its strategy”.

Mr Tugendhat added: “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.”

The Foreign Office has been contacted for comment.