“Media freedom is under attack”: The FCO’s defence of an endangered liberty Contents


Media freedom is under attack, as journalists and their supporters from around the world described to us a wide and worsening array of abuses. Death is the ultimate threat that they face. Journalists are also silenced by broad or over-bearing laws, and harassment or intimidation both in person and over the internet. They also struggle to achieve financial and therefore editorial independence as their traditional funding models are challenged and financial power over the media is used as leverage to achieve its obedience or silence.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has made defending media freedom its priority campaign for 2019 but it remained unclear how this policy would be fulfilled (with the lack of detail being noted and criticised by our witnesses) until July 2019, when a series of initiatives was announced. The FCO has prioritised working to ensure that laws in countries around the world are used to protect rather than persecute journalists. In working to achieve improvements in global media freedom, the FCO intends to coordinate its actions as much as possible with other partners in order to maximise its impact.

These and other initiatives announced by the FCO are a good start. The Committee wants to see the UK go further: to shame and punish in a consistent manner those who violate media freedom—including those who do not enforce protective legal frameworks, to protect journalists from online threats and harassment, and to ensure that journalists can fund their operations and make a living. This report makes ten recommendations to the FCO:

(1) The FCO must now demonstrate the impact, and sustainability, of its policies and initiatives.

(2)The Government should support training for law-enforcement organisations around the world to help them protect journalists.

(3)The FCO should consider supporting an international mechanism to investigate and punish the abuse of journalists if governments will not.

(4)The FCO should do more in public to shame those who persecute the media. We refer to examples in Malta, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

(5)The FCO should use sanctions to punish those who persecute the media.

(6)The FCO should coordinate more closely with the Home Office over visas for persecuted journalists, and their families and associates.

(7)The FCO should put the online and digital threats to journalists at the heart of their strategy.

(8)The FCO should provide training and/or technical assistance to journalists to counter harassment and intimidation, including online, designed in consultation with them.

(9)The FCO should consider further measures to address the financial weakness and vulnerability of media organisations around the world.

(10)The Government should give a further extension to its funding of the BBC World Service, to give the World Service greater financial certainty.

The Committee intends to return to this topic to review the Department’s progress in defending this endangered liberty, including through the initiatives announced at its Global Conference for Media Freedom.

Published: 9 September 2019