2017 World Press Freedom Index – tipping point
On Tuesday 26 April 2017 the Ethical Journalism Network attended the launch of the Reporters Without Borders annual report on press freedom.
The launch was chaired by Jon Snow of Channel 4 News, who described the report as “grim reading” with the UK Bureau Director for Reporters Without Borders, Rebecca Vincent, detailing the main findings.
Ege Dundar of Pen International spoke about the findings of OSCE election monitors that media covered created an uneven playing field for the recent referendum in Turkey. He encouraged international media to not solely rely on the Islamist or Secular dichotomy as the dominant narrative when covering Turkey.
UK slips two places to 40th
Roy Greenslade, opened his remarks by quoting Austin Sarat‘s article for the Guardian from February 2017:
We must recognize that freedom of the press is neither deeply enshrined in our legal traditions, nor in the affections of the American people. It cannot be taken for granted.
“Freedom of press still a fragile flower here in Britain” Greenslade said, adding that there was little affection for news gatherers despite their role in society being more needed than ever. Greenslade listed three main threats against the press in the UK:
- The Investigatory Powers Act, which compromises individual privacy by giving security service and police wide powers of surveillance and pressure to reveal sources. The fact that the Chinese government referred to it when defending Beijing’s anti-terror laws was telling, he said.
- The Espionage Act – a replacement to the official secrets act – which offers journalists no public interest defence.
- The threat of section 40 of 2013 Crime and Courts act, which he describe as a hasty interpretation of the Leveson inquiries findings, that would mean publishers not signed up to a Leveson-compliant regulator would have to pay court fees even when they won court cases against them.
Greenslade commended the NUJ for forcing the NUJ to amend the Digital Economy Bill to remove a section that would jailed both journalists and sources for have made it illegal to leek records to journalists. Both source and j would go t jail.
“There should be a public interest defence to every law”, Greenslade argued.
Finally he referred to the UK confiscating the passport of Syrian journalists Zeina ?? after a request from Damascus. This was a disgraceful way to treat a journalist who has not only won awards but trained journalists in Allepo. It was for reasons that this that the RSF opened an office in the UK; to fight for press freedom so that UK remains a beacon rather then setting a bad example.
Jon Snow said that Channel 4 News requests ministers of the UK government to appear on almost a nightly basis and they almost always decline. They don’t feel the need to be questioned when there is no opposition. This has serious repercussions to the public face of politics. He defied the audience to name more than 6 current cabinet ministers.
For a full summary of the event see this article by the Press Gazette: UK falls down world press freedom rankings thanks to Snooper’s Charter, Espionage Act and Section 40 threats