Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the effectiveness of national and international measures to curb attacks on journalists and the media generally.
My Lords, shortly after the London CHOGM, I was approached by the Commonwealth Journalists Association—the CJA. It briefed me on its work on Commonwealth principles on freedom of expression and the role of the media in good governance. It was concerned that, despite its efforts to gain a commitment to enshrine Commonwealth media principles in the final CHOGM communique, no consensus could be found among the Commonwealth Heads of State. With more than 100 journalists killed in eight Commonwealth countries between 2006 and 2015, mostly with impunity, there was a strong call for the UK, as chair-in-office, to build that consensus to ensure that the principles relating to the role of the media in good governance are considered at the Rwanda CHOGM in 2020, in accordance with the Commonwealth fundamental values. The promotion of accountable Governments, as well as independent media, can be successful only if political participants show leadership in safeguarding those democratic standards. The CJA set of principles drew on existing Commonwealth declarations, international commitments and soundings with experts from many countries. What progress has been made since CHOGM in achieving a consensus among Commonwealth Heads of State on freedom of expression?
To understand the extent of press and media persecution, just refer to the reports of Reporters Without Borders. Its World Press Freedom Index evaluates the state of journalism in 180 countries and territories every year. For 2019, the index shows how hatred of journalists has degenerated into violence, contributing to an increase in fear. An intense climate of fear has been triggered, which is prejudicial to a safe reporting environment. The hostility towards journalists expressed by political leaders incites increasingly serious and frequent acts of violence. Norway is ranked first in the index for the third year running. The UK has improved slightly from last year’s 40th position, while the USA has slipped from 45th to 48th. Many authoritarian regimes have fallen in the index. Only 24% of the 180 countries are classified as “good”, compared to 26% last year. Threats, insults and attacks are now part of the occupational hazards for journalists in many countries. What measures are the Government taking to accelerate the rather mediocre position of the UK and to lift the country into the top echelons of European nations?
Punish the Crime not the Truth: Highlights from the 2018 UNESCO Director-General’s Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Dangers of Impunity makes grim reading. Some 94% of all killings were of local journalists covering local stories. Nearly one quarter of killed journalists were freelancers, widely considered to be more vulnerable, frequently working alone without media staff back-up. In 2016-17, a journalist was killed every four days; the total reached 182. Impunity for these crimes remained a huge challenge. Of the 1,010 killings recorded by UNESCO in the past 12 years, only 115 were followed by a judicial procedure, leaving 89% unresolved. The overall effect is to impede progress towards “public access to information” and “fundamental freedoms”, an agreed target in SDG 16.10. UNESCO stresses that increasing the safety of journalists worldwide and combatting impunity for crimes committed against them requires a concerted effort of all stakeholders. What measures are the Government proposing for that aim in their freedom for the media campaign?
In 1993, 3 May was established as World Press Freedom Day, in response to a call by African journalists who in 1991 had produced the Windhoek declaration on media pluralism and independence. This year, the day took place under the theme “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation,” aimed at highlighting the current challenges faced by the media in elections. What were the outcomes of those deliberations and what actions were agreed to tackle these issues collectively?
In November 2018, the Foreign Secretary, writing in the Evening Standard, said that defending a free media must be a central element of British foreign policy and outlined the links between a free media, good governance and defeating corruption. He wrote:
“Hard evidence shows a striking overlap between the countries with the least corruption and the countries with the freest media”.
The Foreign Affairs Committee in the other place is undertaking an examination of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and global media freedom following the Foreign Secretary’s statement. Written evidence from the BBC and the National Union of Journalists is now in circulation. The NUJ has produced a comprehensive 83-point statement, concluding with a request that the previous Foreign Secretary’s £l million scheme to boost press freedom be published—assuming that it has been launched and is still operating. Will this be done?
The BBC World Service produced a comprehensive written submission to the committee with an overview of particular concerns for their Persian journalists and their families. The BBC points out that it remains the most trusted global news provider, with its news services reaching more people than ever, some 347 million. I can confirm from my experience in years gone by that whenever you are in a country where there is a problem, with riots or whatever, it is the BBC news service you turn to first. Will the Government work closely with the BBC in its quest to preserve, maintain and expand free media globally? The Foreign Secretary stated that his aim was to bring together the countries which believe in the cause of defending a free media in order to mobilise a consensus behind the protection of journalists, with Britain as the chain that links the nations who share our values, by alerting public opinion and imposing a diplomatic price as an incentive. Does the Minister agree? Does the Foreign Secretary propose to start with Commonwealth countries who share the Commonwealth values of freedom of speech and expression but have yet to sign up to them post-CHOGM? Would that work?
The Foreign Secretary also cited work undertaken by the Government and British embassies to support media freedom worldwide. He announced £8.5 million funding for essential work in Eastern Europe and Central Asia to lead the struggle against propaganda and the misuse of the internet. Can the Minister be more specific about what this work entails? There has been much comment in recent weeks about the engagement of contractors from Asian countries, China in particular, in work of this nature, which is, I imagine, not something we wish to encourage.
In Addis Ababa on 3 May—World Press Freedom Day—the Foreign Secretary announced a new Chevening fellowship programme for 60 media professionals across Africa. It will focus on promoting and protecting media freedom and improving the safety of journalists. As an extension of the much-admired Chevening scholarship programme, this has to be all to the good, provided that the scholarship programme is not diluted to fund these fellowships, as has happened with ventures of a similar nature in the past. Can the Minister give an assurance that the fellowships will be funded with new money and not by syphoning funds from existing budgets of the Chevening scholarship programme?
Finally, we should welcome the initiative of appointing Amal Clooney as the United Kingdom’s first special envoy on media freedom and chair of a new panel of legal experts in April. The timing attracted some cynicism, as it came within hours of Wikileaks warning about the potential expulsion and likely arrest of Julian Assange, but that is no matter. It so happens that I had the opportunity to talk with officials, and latterly Mrs Clooney, at some length in February. I was clear that the Clooney Foundation for Justice, and TrialWatch can provide a new initiative in cases where courts are being used as tools of oppression against government critics and minorities. While it was clear that this would not be a campaigning programme, there was interest in liaising with parliamentarians engaged with these wider issues, for example, by jointly contributing to media freedom events organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Groups on the Commonwealth and on Africa. Will the Minister agree to meet me at a later date to explore the potential scope of this initiative?
My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for the way in which he has introduced today’s debate with his customary expertise and skill.
Central to any debate looking at press freedom and the harassment of journalists is Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.
These last three words “regardless of frontiers” remind us that this is a transnational obligation which all states are duty-bound to uphold. This obligation is given even sharper definition in the internet age, as journalists face ever more danger—intimidation, imprisonment, violent attacks and even murder—in reprisal for their work. Only yesterday, in the Times there was a report on the death of an Afghan journalist, Mena Mangal, who was shot dead in Kabul. Fifteen other reporters and media workers were killed in Afghanistan last year.
Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, is to be commended for marking World Press Freedom Day, launching a global campaign to protect journalists doing their job, and promoting the benefits of a free media and especially for hosting in July the world’s first ministerial summit on media freedom.
The urgent need for this initiative was underlined at the Legatum Institute’s Courage in Journalism award which I recently attended. It was given posthumously in recognition of amazing bravery. Poignantly, the ceremony was being held a few days after Lyra McKee’s funeral in Northern Ireland. One of the judges, the award-winning journalist, Christina Lamb, recalled the death of her colleague, Marie Colvin, killed in Homs. Reflecting on her own 32 years as a journalist, she said that the job had become much more dangerous. The judges highlighted 70 deaths during the past year. Christina Lamb said:
“From Afghanistan to Mexico, from Palestine to Somalia, and from Brazil to India, journalists on assignment were shot in the back, blown up by car bombs or died in suicide attacks”.
In 2018, according to the Foreign Office, 99 journalists were killed, 348 detained and 60 taken hostage by non-state groups. Although there are conflicting figures, all agree that 2018 was the deadliest year ever for journalists.
All of us here are too well aware of the lethal dangers in countries such as North Korea and Pakistan. I declare an interest as co-chair of two relevant All-Party Parliamentary Groups. However, this is an issue in Europe as well. In October 2017, Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta’s best-known investigative journalist, was killed when a car bomb exploded after she had reported on government corruption, nepotism, money laundering and organised crime.
The 2019 Legatum award was given in memory of a brave young man, Ján Kuciak from Slovakia. He was just 27 when he was murdered, along with his fiancée, following an investigation in which he linked the Italian mafia to the City of London and Slovakian senior government advisors. His reporting led to the fall of the Slovakian Government and rallied many in the nation to get behind press freedom.
Reporters Without Borders, reflecting on its index of 180 countries, says that the line separating physical from verbal violence is dissolving. By way of example, its index states that, in the Philippines—ranked 133rd—President Rodrigo Duterte, “constantly insults reporters”, outrageously warning that they are “not exempted from assassination”.
Even in democratic societies, the use of intemperate vituperative insults and dog whistles creates a climate of rancid hatred, and politicians need to think more carefully about their use of language.
When the Minister replies, I would like him to comment on these examples from Afghanistan, Malta, Slovakia and the Philippines, and the situations in Papua, Iran and China. Last week, here at Westminster, representatives of West Papua meeting the noble Lord, Lord Collins, me and others described,
“appalling restrictions on foreign journalists from visiting Papua and surveillance and controls on Indonesian journalists”.
On 3 February last year, three BBC workers were deported from West Papua after commenting on the humanitarian health crisis in Asmat, during which around 100 children died. My noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries, who chaired the meeting last week, will no doubt say more about this in due course. The BBC also faces restrictions in Iran—we heard about them from the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey—which has been systematically targeting BBC Persian journalists, based mainly in London.
What of China, let alone North Korea, which boasts of its complete information blockade? Reporters Without Borders says that under the leadership of Xi Jinping, China exported,
“its tightly controlled news and information model in Asia”,
enabling other countries near the bottom of its index, including Vietnam, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, to continue their suppression of criticism and dissent. RWF says that its index has never previously had to classify so many countries as very bad. That is reinforced by Freedom House, which says that only 13% of the world’s population lives in a country with a genuinely free press, while 45% of the population lives in a media environment that is not free and that global press freedom has declined to its lowest point in 13 years.
All that illustrates why the Government’s initiative, like this debate, is to be welcomed, why we must be more energetic in upholding Article 19, and why we must safeguard a freedom that is a cornerstone of open, free and democratic societies.
My Lords, I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for bringing this important debate forward today.
To build on the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, free media is essentially a key human right, which, as he said, is outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in our own Human Rights Act. It is a core component of democracy that performs a series of functions: scrutiny and oversight of government, business and organisations; informing the public; enabling the public to form their own political views; and keeping the spotlight on important issues.
However, far from media freedom developing, we live in alarming times, when there is more and more pressure on journalists, as noble Lords have made all too clear. Half of the top 10 most inventive countries are also in the top 10 for media freedom. Media freedom results in creativity, business opportunities and innovation. This is a time when we, protected by the BBC—a great safeguard and beacon around the world—are seeing journalists increasingly under threat.
There was great relief when we heard that the two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were released after 500 days in custody after reporting on the Rohingya crisis. However, as has been said, the number of journalists in prison because of their work has increased steadily since 2000. At least 251 journalists are currently in jail in countries that include China, Egypt and Turkey. However, more alarmingly, as has been said, 95 journalists lost their lives last year in targeted killings. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned Marie Colvin but there are many others: last year, Ján Kuciak, who the noble Lord mentioned, was killed in February; nine journalists were killed in Kabul in April; five journalists were killed in June in Annapolis, Maryland; and four journalists were killed in December in Mogadishu.
Perhaps the most grotesque of all was the murder of Jamal Khashoggi last year. Most of those killed are local journalists—only 7% are foreign. But this particularly distinguished man, US-educated and working for the Washington Post, was dismembered in the most macabre way in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey. What is so striking is that President Erdoğan, rightly, was outspoken and determined in condemning the violent murder of a journalist in Istanbul.
However, there is a deep irony when one considers Turkey’s track record in this area. Over the last few years Turkey has consistently been the worst and largest jailer of journalists. The Istanbul-based NGO P24, co-founded by the distinguished Andy Finkel, believes that 146 journalists and media workers are currently detained. Recently Turkey has gone beyond its crackdown on journalists to begin targeting NGOs, civil society organisations and charities involved in highlighting the existing threat to free expression. Ten senior employees of human rights groups were arrested during a workshop in the summer of 2017, including the director of Amnesty International Turkey. It is the first time that Amnesty International has had both a director and chair in the same country behind bars at the same time. The Open Society Foundations were forced to cease operations last year. Osman Kavala, a Turkish businessman, philanthropist and pillar of society, has been languishing in pre-trial detention for 18 months, while 1,419 locally incorporated civil society organisations closed in the autocratic consolidation in the aftermath of the failed coup.
Our relationship with Turkey is important. I accept that the Foreign Secretary and Ministers have a close relationship. Turkey is a member of NATO and an important trading partner. However, we cannot overlook the appalling treatment of journalists. Turkey is perhaps an extreme example. It is not only that we see incarceration; journalists are also under pressure. They abandon political stories, withhold information and tone down coverage in response to threats of violence or coercion. Countries refuse entry to journalists or deny them permits. There are all manner of ways in which intimidation and threats take place.
Like others, I therefore greatly welcome the leadership that the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has given on this subject with a really forceful commitment to supporting press freedom around the world, a central element of British foreign policy. He spoke, as has been said, at the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day in Addis Ababa. Mention has been made of the important Chevening Africa Media Freedom Fellowship scholarships and of the appointment of Amal Clooney, a hugely effective and very impressive woman with competence and skill but also the ability to garner attention and throw a spotlight on to this desperate situation.
UNESCO has suggested that supporting freedom of the press follows six key priorities: public awareness; standards creation and policy development; monitoring and reporting; capacity building within member states to prevent attacks and prosecute perpetrators; academic research; and strengthening coalitions. In my view, the example being set by our Foreign Secretary, anticipating the Global Conference for Media Freedom in July this year, gives us a splendid platform on which to act. It is ironic that at a time when many in this Parliament regret the toxic effects of social media, there are many countries where it is social media, alongside the BBC, that provide the opportunity for true and accurate evidence.
My Lords, my particular concern is the protection, or lack of it, for interpreters and translators working alongside many journalists in conflict zones. I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Chartered Institute of Linguists.
The role of interpreters in conflict situations is vital but poorly understood and rarely acknowledged. They are unsung heroes. I am quite sure that journalists would be happy to confirm how important interpreters can be for them, just as members of the Armed Forces have been fulsome in their praise for the interpreters working with them in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. However, it is not sufficient to classify interpreters as “media workers” or “media professionals”, as they have been under various UN resolutions on the safety of journalists. On the contrary, subsuming professional civilian interpreters within the media generally has added to their invisibility and lack of status. Neither can they rely on the Geneva conventions for their protection, whether during or after a conflict, because they are simply not ordinary civilians any more than journalists are.
When foreign correspondents leave a conflict zone, the local interpreters are left to fend for themselves. Although we have some statistics on the appalling level of violence towards journalists, the vulnerability of interpreters, on whom many journalists would be the first to admit they depend, is undocumented. Interpreters are often the victims of distrust, discrimination and threats from all sides. Indeed, there is even a syndrome known as the translator-traitor mentality—in other words, the assumption that the local civilian translator or interpreter is not doing a neutral, professional job but must be working for the other side, whoever that happens to be.
I pay tribute to the work of Red T, an international NGO based in New York that monitors incidents involving the translator-traitor mentality. In 2012, it produced the first ever conflict zone field guide for linguists and users of their services. Some of the guidance is about very small details but ones that can make all the difference as to whether an interpreter is wrongly perceived. For example, users, including journalists, are asked to be aware of how they position themselves physically, making sure that eye contact is between the two parties and not with the interpreter, which might give rise to suspicions about impartiality.
Red T has also called for a UN resolution conferring special legal status on interpreters in conflict zones, similar to Resolutions 1738 and 2222 about journalists and the media and their safety. The Minister has been kind enough to discuss this issue with me before and to facilitate contact between Red T and our ambassador at the UN. I am very grateful for his interest and concern, but I ask him now whether he will undertake to raise the profile of this issue and give it greater momentum by adding the support of Her Majesty’s Government to that of other countries—so far, Sweden, Spain and Belarus—in calling for a Security Council resolution along the lines I have mentioned. I believe that the UK is currently the penholder at the UN for the protection of civilians, so, in my opinion, it would be an excellent example of leadership to take this issue forward.
I do not wish for one minute to deny or undermine in any way the vulnerability of journalists we have heard about, and I fully support the call for stronger measures to increase their safety and protection. However, I urge the Government—and, indeed, the media as it reports and comments on this whole issue—also to acknowledge the vulnerable position of local interpreters and to make common cause with them. As George Packer of the New Yorker magazine said about foreign correspondents and interpreters:
“Both are considered spies, but one is only an infidel, while the other is something worse—an apostate, a traitor”.
I would like to give three examples to illustrate that. In 2006, the journalist Jill Carroll was abducted in Baghdad, together with her Iraqi interpreter, Allan Enwiyah. Carroll was released physically unharmed after nearly three months, while the interpreter was found dead with two bullets in his head. In the same year, Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo and his interpreter were captured in Afghanistan. Mastrogiacomo was rescued in a deal that swapped him for imprisoned Taliban. The interpreter was beheaded. In 2015, Mohammed Ismael Rasool, an Iraqi interpreter, was kidnapped along with two British journalists who were working on a story about clashes between Kurdish youth and the Turkish security forces. The journalists were released after six days, but the interpreter spent over four months in prison and was freed on bail only because media and human rights organisations campaigned forcefully for his freedom and his life.
I hope that the Minister will reassure me that he is willing to inject a greater sense of urgency into the call for a Security Council resolution. I would also be grateful if he would agree to meet Red T the next time he is in New York on ministerial business at the UN. Finally, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for tabling this debate and for giving me the opportunity to raise these important issues.
My Lords, for me, the best place to begin thinking about this subject is at a small altar in St Bride’s, Fleet Street. On the altar are the photos of journalists who have been killed in the course of their work, with candles burning beside them. It is sobering and moving to stand there for a few moments. Sadly, in recent years there has been a record number of journalists killed, with 2018 the deadliest year yet: 99 lost in that way. In addition, of course, is the increasing number who have been imprisoned: 348 in 2018. What adds to the shocking nature of this is the way that so many states restrain, detain and sometimes kill journalists as a matter of course—of which the murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy by agents of the Saudi Government was only the most brazen.
Attacks on journalists come in three different forms and need to be thought about in different ways. First, there are the deaths of journalists reporting in war zones or situations of conflict, such as the recent sad death of Lyra McKee. Then there are the attacks on journalists as a result of their investigation of organised crime. Thirdly, there are attacks on journalists by the state itself.
In relation to the first kind of deaths, steps have been taken by international journalists’ organisations to encourage states to offer special support to reporters working in areas of conflict or at times of special tension. In South Africa, for example, there are stronger penalties for attacks on journalists at election time, setting a very good example of something that could be put into effect.
In relation to the second kind of attack—on journalists investigating criminal activity—I wonder whether it would be possible to enlist greater state help in the protection of such journalists. However harsh a regime may be when it itself is attacked, few actually welcome organised crime, which can also be a threat to the Government themselves. I am of course aware that in some countries, Governments, or at least some people in those Governments, are indeed linked to organised crime. Also, it is of the essence of much journalistic work that it has to go on under cover and in secrecy, so it may be counterproductive to look for state protection in any form. That having been said, any Government who refused to sign a covenant offering support and a measure of protection to journalists investigating organised crime would hardly enhance their reputation.
Thirdly, there is the most serious and difficult form of attack: that organised by Governments themselves. Here, the only protection available at the moment is unrelenting exposure of what is happening, and ceaseless campaigning. A Government may feel that they can ignore bad international publicity about the way in which they imprison journalists, but none welcome having such a reputation, especially if they are linked in the public mind with states that they themselves condemn. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, pointed out, there is particular irony in the criticism of Saudi Arabia by Turkey, because Turkey detains more reporters than any other country in the world: 68 at the moment.
India prides itself on being the largest democracy in the world, yet, partly as a result of increasing Hindu nationalism, it is increasingly difficult for journalists to report what is happening. Six or possibly seven were killed in 2018, with a number of attacks on journalists in the lead-up to the recent elections. Attacks on women journalists were particularly marked. This is true worldwide. The International Federation of Journalists’ survey of women journalists revealed that 48% had experienced gender-based violence in their work and 44% had suffered online abuse.
In a globalised world, we know that we have to have some kind of relationship with the most unsavoury Governments, and trading relationships with many of them, but we look to Her Majesty’s Government to take every opportunity to raise issues of press freedom with them and, when reporters are detained, to press for their release. In some countries, we continue to have influence and leverage. Take Egypt, for example, where President al-Sisi rules with the support of the army and the general support of the international community as seeming to offer greater stability than the Muslim Brotherhood. On the basis of that support, we need to remind the President that Egypt is now 161st out of 180 in world rankings of press freedom, with 25 journalists in jail.
Some countries do not appear to have many journalists detained because there is no freedom to report at all, of which the most notorious is West Papua, where the press, like NGOs, are not allowed in—and, if they get in, they are quickly deported. Even the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, was barred from visiting West Papua. All foreign media were explicitly banned from reporting the conduct of the recent elections there.
When President Joko Widodo visited Parliament in 2016, I was able to talk to him about the lack of media access to West Papua. I pointed out that, although he had assured the world that access would be given, it was in fact being blocked. He said that he would try to address this, but nothing has happened. Now that he is about to be re-elected—I think that the results officially come out next week—it is time for Her Majesty’s Government to press him very seriously on this to allow proper, unfettered access. He needs to see that his standing in the international community depends on movement on this issue.
Just outside the rebuilt Broadcasting House is a fine statue of George Orwell, with some of his words carved beside it:
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”.
In a world of increasing untruth, where lying or gross misrepresentation are taken for granted, the fearlessness of those willing to support the truth is more needed than ever. We salute those who risk their freedom and put their lives on the line to do this.
My Lords, I will speak very briefly in the gap. I refer in particular to a case raised by my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries. In doing so, I declare an interest. I visited the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua for seven successive years as an adviser to BP on the development of its large gas reserves there.
I will say this about the Indonesian ban on international journalists going to the provinces of Papua and West Papua: it is totally counterproductive. It does not stop terrible stories—sometimes accurate, sometimes less than accurate—about human rights abuses in those two provinces. It merely ensures that they are more luridly reported. There was no benefit to Indonesia from this ban that I could see from the times I went there. I therefore echo the appeal by my noble and right reverend friend that, if and when the President is re-elected for a second term, the Government should seek to persuade him to lift the ban on journalists going there.
The second case I will mention was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Alton: the harassment by the Iranian Government of the families of Persian TV journalists here. They are subjected to all kinds of harassment. It is extremely unpleasant. One of the journalists here was prevented from visiting her father on his death bed. It is intolerable. We are, quite rightly, taking the view that the nuclear agreement with Iran must be defended and sustained. I am not suggesting that one should be traded against the other, but the Iranian Government should be reminded that we are taking quite a lot of flak from our closest ally on this matter, and they are doing nothing but harass BBC journalists.
My Lords, it is standard in debates such as this to congratulate the noble Lord or noble Baroness who brought the debate. Naturally, I will do that this evening. I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Chidgey for doing so, but it is also a particularly timely debate because, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, pointed out, we heard only yesterday of the death of another Afghan journalist, Mina Mangal.
Press freedom and freedom of the media affects all of us. It is not just an international issue; it comes closer to home. In preparation for this debate I did a little bit of research, as other Peers will have done, but rather than reading the Library briefing I looked elsewhere to see what other issues we might want to think about. I remembered that Laura Kuenssberg, a BBC journalist here, at one point two years ago had a protection officer going to a party conference. In the 21st century, there is surely something wrong when a journalist in this country feels that they need protection. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, made clear, freedom of expression is a human right and should be completely uncontested for the media in this country.
However, this debate is clearly about wider issues of media freedom. The most egregious cases are not in the United Kingdom but in parts of the Commonwealth and other parts of Europe. My noble friend Lord Chidgey started with a discussion of the Commonwealth. It may not surprise noble Lords that I will mention a European country, a country that has aspired to membership of the European Union in the past: Turkey.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, pointed out that Turkey is one of our allies in NATO, but it has also aspired to be a member of the European Union. For it to do this, it is vital to accept democracy, human rights, rule of law and freedom of expression. If a country wants to be part of the western community of nations, imprisoning journalists for no good reason is clearly not a way to do that. We all need to stand up and call out repression of the media. In addition to what we are doing in the Commonwealth, what are the Government doing with our NATO partners?
One of the countries with the greatest problems is Iran, particularly regarding the BBC Persian Service. Many of us have had the briefing from the BBC. What representations are the Government making to the Iranian Government? I know that the previous and current Foreign Secretaries have been involved, but can the Minister give us any reassurance that Iranians and British Iranians are being adequately assured about their safety?
It is vital that journalists are free to do their jobs and do not fear for their lives. As the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, so eloquently pointed out, it is not just about the journalists. The lives of the people who enable the journalists to do their jobs—the interpreters, whose role we so often ignore—are potentially in greater danger. What are the Government doing to ensure that interpreters are being supported?
Furthermore, it is important for us to remember to think about the issues of imprisoning journalists and curtailing freedom of speech. Governments with whom we have relationships are doing these things, be it Turkey or Saudi Arabia. We should not simply turn a blind eye to these issues. The most egregious attacks on freedom are only the most difficult cases. It is important not simply to ensure that journalists do not fear for their lives and being put in prison; they should also feel assured that they can speak the truth and speak truth to power. That is the key role of any journalist. It is essential that we have freedom of the press in all parts of the world. If the leader of what used to be known as the western world, the President of the United States, calls out the media and claims that there are “fake news” issues, it damages freedom. It also undermines the democratic process: if we cannot trust journalists, who do we trust to speak truth to power?
It is essential that the press be free in all parts of the world, and that leaders lead not by calling out the media but by responding to appropriate questioning from it. Might the Government raise that issue with Donald Trump?
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for this extremely timely debate. Many of us read the briefing and the IFJ report, In the Shadow of Violence: Journalists and Media Staff Killed in 2018. The numbers are horrendous and up from the previous year; 95 journalists were killed in 2018. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, said, we should not forget those who have been imprisoned, particularly in China, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Syria—the countries with the highest numbers of imprisoned journalists.
Reporters Without Borders pointed out that only 9% of the world’s population currently live in countries where journalists enjoy a favourable environment and are able to practise their profession freely and independently. Does the Minister agree with its call for the creation of a UN special rapporteur with responsibility for monitoring the protection of journalists and press freedom? Of course, the recent murder of Lyra McKee in Derry was the first recorded killing of a journalist in the UK since Martin O’Hagan was shot dead outside his home in Northern Ireland in 2001. That killing reminds us that attacks on journalists are not restricted to state actors. Earlier this year, the NUJ reported on,
“an alarming spate of recent incidents of intimidation, threats and violence carried out by far-right protesters systematically targeting the media, especially photojournalists”.
It has asked the Metropolitan Police and the National Police Chiefs’ Council to engage with the union and its members to discuss how policing can be improved to better protect journalists. Have the Government taken any steps to facilitate such engagement?
Like other noble Lords, I very much welcome the Foreign Secretary’s plans for the Global Conference for Media Freedom, set for London in July. To achieve maximum impact, the Government should adopt an inclusive approach, engaging with a range of stakeholders, including industry representatives and the TUC. I was concerned to read in the briefing that, apart from one informal meeting, the NUJ has not been asked to participate in further work on shaping the conference; nor has it been invited to attend the FCO advisory groups. I hope the Minister agrees that engaging with the NUJ and the IFJ should be central to this work and not marginalised.
Jeremy Hunt’s special envoy on media freedom, Amal Clooney, will chair a high-level panel of legal experts on this issue. Will the Minister suggest that she also meets the NUJ and the International Federation of Journalists? I note that the panel may also propose mechanisms that raise the cost of non-compliance with media freedom, including advising on sanctions targeting regimes that abuse journalists, the creation of a special body that investigates crimes against reporters and restrictions on trials against reporters. Amal Clooney singled out India and Brazil as two large democratic countries where journalists have been targeted; like noble Lords, she also pointed to the brutal murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. It is over six months since his murder but we should not forget why he was killed—simply for writing articles criticising the war in Yemen and the rule of Crown Prince bin Salman. Can the Minister tell us what conclusions the Government have reached on who ordered his murder?
Of course, crimes against journalists often go unpunished. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to the assassination in Malta in 2017 of the investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, which remains unsolved, with the Maltese authorities still resisting calls for a public inquiry.
There is also another issue. We talk about press freedom, but of course journalists are not now working simply for the press; they increasingly use social media to spread information. It is important that repressive Governments are not able to cut off access to social media to quell what they see as unhelpful reporting. What steps are the Government taking to promote online freedom globally? What reassurance can the Minister give those concerned about the impact on press freedom of the Government’s White Paper proposals to tackle online harm? What has been properly reflected in this debate is that whatever we say for other countries, we must do ourselves. It is important that we in this country protect all aspects of press freedom.
Finally, I too want to associate myself strongly with the comments of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on West Papua. As the Minister knows, I raised the reports from West Papua about the use of white phosphorus, which is potentially a war crime. The issue in West Papua is that there is no access to investigate or discover what is happening. No independent journalist has been able to report, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, has told us in the debate. I know that the Minister promised to write to me about those allegations in West Papua, but I hope he will also be able to reassure us today that he will strongly argue, when the new President has been elected, for proper access for the media to that province.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for tabling this debate. I recognise and acknowledge his outstanding commitment to international affairs over many years. He keeps me on my toes regarding all aspects of the Commonwealth, and today is no exception. By his doing that, I have come to value his input and insights on issues across the board, particularly those relating to human rights. Today’s debate is no different.
It is poignant that we are meeting just a day after the death of Mina Mangal, as several noble Lords have pointed out, including the noble Lord, Lord Alton, my noble friend Lady Bottomley, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. Those who knew Mina will pay tribute to her incredible work in Afghanistan. I am troubled by the challenges presented by the rekindling of the strength of the Taliban. What hope does that hold for brave and courageous journalists such as Mina? We pay tribute to her work and to her courage, but she has become yet another statistic as a journalist who has been killed simply for doing her job. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, among others, pointed out, this is not just the situation abroad, as indeed Lyra McKee’s murder showed. It is not just about state actors; rather, it is a challenge we face at home as well.
We all recognise the vital contribution that a free media can make to a healthy democracy and society as a whole through seeking out and exposing the truth to inform the public and hold the powerful to account. As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, in introducing the debate, last year alone some 99 journalists were killed across the world, while 348 were imprisoned and 60 taken hostage—and those are just the reported figures. Restrictive laws are being used in more and more countries to stifle freedom of expression and to prevent the functioning of an independent media. I pay tribute to all noble Lords who are speaking in this debate for their work to ensure that we remain focused on this important human right.
The international framework around media freedom and the protection of journalists is well established at the United Nations. Clear provisions on the freedom of opinion and freedom of expression are contained in several human rights treaties and in multiple resolutions from both the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly. Alongside that framework is the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. It offers states a blueprint for how to create a safe and free environment for journalists and media workers, including interpreters, by putting in place legislation and safeguarding mechanisms. Clearly, though, having frameworks is not enough; actions need to happen, and therefore I share the frustration expressed by many noble Lords that so much more still needs to be done to provide legal protection, safety and security to journalists around the world.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, rightly raised the issue of the UK itself and undoubtedly, our current status in the rankings is not something that we accept. He asked what progress was being made. We are committed to improving our ranking in the index. For example, we are committed to repealing Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act at the earliest opportunity. We are also consulting with civil society on the online harms White Paper, which was a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Collins. That is why, as noble Lords acknowledged, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, together with his Canadian counterpart, launched the global campaign to defend media freedom to protect journalists doing their jobs, to raise the costs to those who would silence them, and to promote the benefits of a free media.
The centrepiece of our campaign will be the world’s first ministerial summit on media freedom, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, mentioned, which will be held in London on 10 and 11 July. The noble Lord may be interested to know that a key focus of the summit will be strengthening the legal protection of journalists. Therefore, we were delighted that the international human rights lawyer, Amal Clooney, agreed to serve as the Foreign Secretary’s special envoy. I was at a meeting recently at the UN where I was able to speak directly with Amal, and we look forward to welcoming her in London and continuing our work with her. I know that many noble Lords welcome her appointment.
We are also continuing to take action in other ways to defend media freedom and protect journalists. Last December, as chair of the Human Dimension Committee of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the UK steered through the OSCE’s first ever media freedom commitment and its first specific human rights decision since 2014—the Ministerial Council Decision on the Safety of Journalists. Importantly, this politically binding commitment recognises the link between the safety of journalists and security within and between states. The UK is an active member of the OSCE’s Group of Friends on Safety of Journalists, which we helped to establish.
We also give support to the Council of Europe’s excellent online Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists and use our influence at the UN Human Rights Council to support media freedom. Indeed, I announced our campaign to defend media freedom there in February and spoke at a panel focused on impunity organised by ARTICLE 19.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, asked about the Commonwealth and the work that has been done since CHOGM last year. We are actively supporting efforts by the Commonwealth Journalists Association and the CPAUK, among others, to build consensus on the 12 Commonwealth Principles on freedom of expression and the role of the media in good governance. We very much hope these principles can be adopted at the Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali next year.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, raised the issue of specific action in countries. For example he asked about organised crime. In Mexico, our embassy is working closely with the federal protection mechanism to develop plans to prevent violence against journalists. We already support local protection mechanisms in Mexico, where the main challenge remains organised crime. In addition to action in multilateral forums, as I just said in the example given on Mexico, we work through our network of embassies and high commissions. Indeed, two weeks ago, our posts across the globe held events to mark World Press Freedom Day, including in Ethiopia where my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary celebrated the positive example that the country has shown in embracing media freedom.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, asked about Chevening scholarships and the new scholarships that the Foreign Secretary has announced. I assure him that they are new, in addition to the existing ones we offer. In eastern Europe and the Baltic states, our Conflict, Stability and Security Fund has devoted more than £20 million over the past 12 months to supporting media development and countering disinformation. In Iraq over the last 12 months, the British embassy partnered with a local NGO to deliver 15 media workshops, and other work is being done across the Middle East, including in Syria.
The noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Hannay, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised the issue of the BBC in Iran, as did my noble friend Lady Bottomley. I assure noble Lords that the Foreign Secretary specifically raised concerns about the harassment of BBC Persian staff and the families in Iran with his Iranian counterpart during his visit to Tehran on 19 November last year. Officials at the embassy in Tehran continue to raise these issues. I note with deep interest the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, about the current situation we confront in Iran. I assure him that we are making our commitment to support the JCPOA very clear to Iranian counterparts.
Other countries were mentioned, including Malta, as was the murder of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. I assure the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Collins, that we continue to raise her case regularly with the Maltese Government, including at ministerial level, and our high commissioner continues to raise this issue regularly.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also mentioned Slovakia and Ján Kuciak. The UK has offered National Crime Agency assistance in this regard. The offer was appreciated but, regrettably, it was not taken up. We will seek other opportunities to press Slovakia to address corruption and promote media freedom.
My noble friend Lady Bottomley and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised Saudi Arabia and Jamal Khashoggi. I assure noble Lords that we continue to raise this case. The Foreign Secretary raised in on 12 November in key meetings, including with King Salman and the Crown Prince. It was again raised by the Foreign Secretary in a visit in March and again with Minister of State Al Jaber when he visited London. Turkey is an ally, but we continue to raise issues of journalistic freedoms. I have done so directly. We are working very closely with civil society groups. We have seen some success with our work on human rights defenders through Amnesty International. I assure my noble friend Lady Bottomley and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that it is because of that engagement that we continue to raise these issues, at times publicly and at times privately. As we have seen, it produces results.
I pay tribute to the strong advocacy by the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, on interpreters. She asked about me meeting Red T at the United Nations. I would be delighted to do so. I will also see how we can include and involve it in the summer conference here in London. I assure the noble Baroness that we plan to consider the protection of journalists and interpreters at a side event during the UN’s annual protection of civilians week this year. I will work with the noble Baroness to see how we can work further on her proposal.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, rightly raised the issue of women journalists. In opening, I talked about the sad fact that we are meeting the day after the murder of a woman journalist. We need to ensure that special conditions and security are offered to journalists. We hope this will be part of our focus in the July conference.
The noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Collins, raised the issue of West Papua. The response to a particular question by the noble Lord is in progress and I will follow up on it. Egypt was also mentioned. I wrote to the Egyptian Assistant Minister for Human Rights on 28 April expressing our concerns about media freedom in Egypt. While we welcome the opening up of certain spaces, particularly in religious freedom, that does not mean that we will not raise broader human rights issues.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, spoke about the United States. We have a strong, open relationship with the United States through which we have discussions on all matters. I will certainly take note of her suggestion.
Noble Lords will recognise that media freedom is one of the key human rights priorities for Her Majesty’s Government. I am pleased that we have been able to invite all Foreign Ministers, with the exception of those of one or two countries. Whether they will come or not, I do not know, but it is an open conference where we hope to have an open and candid discussion of this important human rights priority, including the issue of women journalists. It is in all our interests that all journalists are free to go about their work without fearing for their safety, because what is at stake is not only their lives but the freedoms and protections that they provide. There should be no impunity for those who attack journalists. That is why this Government are taking action to raise awareness of the issue and to strengthen legal protections through our Defend Media Freedom campaign. I look forward to working with friends, allies and civil society. I specifically take note of the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, on the NUJ. We will seek to involve it directly in the conference. I will welcome the continued inputs of all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate today as we plan for the July conference and beyond.
I once again thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for obtaining this important debate.