World Press Freedom Day: UK to launch all party group on press liberties

Mark Johnson's picture
by Mark Johnson

As governments and media organisations marked World Press Freedom Day on Friday, Paris-based non-profit group, Reporters Sans Frontieres, said it will launch an all-party parliamentary group on press freedoms in the UK later this year.

Former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport John Whittingdale MP will chair the APPG, and will work closely with RSF to involve parliamentarians from all parties. 

The APPG will focus on promoting and defending press freedom both in the UK and globally.

The announcement comes just two weeks after the launch of RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, which saw the UK increase in ranking from 40th to 33rd out of 180 countries.

RSF Press freedom index: Less than 10% of the planet live in countries with healthy press freedom

The RSF published its latest global press freedom index last month, which showed that less than ten per cent of the world's population live in countries which enjoy acceptable levels of press freedoms.

In the map above, only those market in white and yellow were deemed to have satisfactory press freedoms. Those market in orange, red and black showed - the largest grouping - showed nations that had poor press freedoms.

UK ranking improved

While the UK’s improved ranking was a welcome move and there were indeed some positive developments over the year, RSF called for concrete action to address a number of worrying trends that continued, particularly in the areas of national security, surveillance, and data protection, which impact the UK’s press freedom climate.

“We are excited to be launching this APPG at a time when global press freedom is under greater attack than ever before”, said said RSF UK Bureau Director Rebecca Vincent.

“The UK plays an important standard-setting role when it comes to press freedom and broader human rights, and we believe increased attention to these crucial issues by UK parliamentarians will set a positive international example, as well as help address some of the worrying trends that continue at home”,

Whittingdale to chair APPG

The APPG will be chaired by John Whittingdale OBE, the Conservative MP for the Maldon constituency and a former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. 

Whittingdale is also the chair of the British Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and has a long track record of supporting press freedom at the domestic and international levels.

“Media freedom and the protection of journalists are fundamental requirements for a free and democratic society”, Whittingdale said. “Yet they are under greater threat today than for many years. Reporters Without Borders and other NGOs are doing vital work to highlight the number of deaths, kidnappings and imprisonment of journalists that are taking place in countries across the world. 

“I very much welcome the priority that the British Government has given to addressing this issue at an international conference planned for later this year. I hope that the APPG will ensure that its importance is also high on Parliament’s agenda and I am delighted at the support that has already been shown by MPs from all parties”, said John Whittingdale. 

APPG will launch in July

The formal launch of the APPG, to be marked by a dinner at the House of Commons, will take place on the eve of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s international media freedom conference, which will be held in London from 10 to 11 July as part of the FCO’s media freedom campaign. 

It will also precede the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s media freedom conference, to be held in London in September.

According to RSF only nine per cent of earth’s population lives in a country where RSF regards the level of press freedom as either good or satisfactory. 

Journalists continue to face danger in exercising their reporting duties. Last month prominent Irish journalist Lyra McKee was shot dead as she covered an outbreak of rioting in Londonderry.

Last year, worldwide condemnation followed the gruesome death of Washington Times columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by agents of the Saudi government.

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