Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for May 4th, 2007

World Press Freedom Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 4th May, 2007

alan-johnston-with-name.gifWhile most of Britain was voting yesterday, the UK National Commission for UNESCO hosted a debate at parliament’s Portcullis House in London, on the motion ‘World Media Freedom in Retreat’. A poster displayed calling for the release of the BBC’s Gaza correspondent, Alan Johnston, was a poignant reminder that journalists operate in an increasingly dangerous environment, and that they are frequently targetted, both by repressive governments or their security services (as in Russia), or by guerrillas and extremist groups (as has been the case with Alan, and with the BBC’s Security Correspondent, Frank Gardner, who was shot and permanently disabled in Saudi Arabia in 2004). The recently-retired BBC World Service’s European Affairs editor, William Horsley, chaired the packed and lively meeting, at which we heard a particularly vigorous and witty speech from the Director of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, Oleg Panfilov.

One of the chief opponents of the motion was the political blogger (and Conservative parliamentary candidate), Iain Dale, who argued that the blogosphere represents a huge expansion of opportunities for people to express their views, in uncensored form. He was challenged on the basis of confounding bloggers and journalists, though as was rightly pointed out, the line between the two is blurred, and indeed many people (including myself) straddle it. In a contribution from the floor, I underlined that whereas advances in technology have opened up new freedoms, they have also made it easier for the authorities to operate surveillance of journalists, including through hacking into computers, CCTV, long-distance directional mikes and so on. Moreover, journalists’ enemies have multiplied as the West’s so-called War on Terror has developed, with some Islamic militants in particular seeing reporters no longer as useful channels of communication, but as agents of the West and legitimate targets for assassination, assault and kidnapping.

Despite the eloquence of the opposers of the motion, the evidence of World Press Freedom in Retreat was all too clear, and the motion was carried overwhelmingly.

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