Journalists: International Protection

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:42 pm on 9th January 2019.

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Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Labour, Cynon Valley 4:42 pm, 9th January 2019

Thank you for your guidance, Mr Bailey. I congratulate Mr Whittingdale, who is the new chairman of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, of which I am a vice-chairman. The IPU does very good work on the human rights of Members of Parliament all over the world, and that includes many journalists who are in trouble.

The debate is particularly timely, in the light of the brutal murder of the Washington Post columnist and Saudi national, Jamal Khashoggi, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October, and the very real dangers faced by journalists around the world in carrying out their work. I note that TIME magazine collectively named Jamal Khashoggi and other journalists who had been killed or imprisoned as its person of the year for 2018. Its editor-in-chief, Edward Felsenthal, explained that

“influence—the measure…for nine decades…of TIME’s Person of the Year—derives from courage,” and that the named journalists and one news organisation being recognised

“have paid a terrible price” to receive that accolade.

Journalists and the media are important civil society actors and fundamental to ensuring that information is collected, disseminated, exchanged and evaluated to illuminate the dark corners where suffering, discrimination and injustice prevail, and to hold those in power to account to prevent tyranny and corruption. It is not surprising that those with something to hide, or who are motivated by power, greed or hatred, are often particularly keen to undermine, stigmatise and silence those endeavouring to bring their actions and abuses to light, by enforced censorship, the creation of a climate necessitating self-censorship, intimidation, persecution, unwarranted criminal or civil prosecution, imprisonment, or even disappearance and murder.

The International Federation of Journalists, which is a global group, notes that 84 journalists, cameramen, fixers and technicians died last year in targeted killings, bomb attacks and cross-fire incidents. It highlights an ongoing safety crisis in journalism, which was dramatically illustrated by the cruel murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Interestingly—and worryingly—IFJ figures reveal that more journalists were killed last year for trying to cover stories in their communities, cities and countries than for reporting in armed conflict areas. Increasing dangers are posed to journalists by a growing intolerance of independent reporting, by populism, by rampant corruption, by organised crime and by the breakdown of law and order in countries such as Mexico, India, Pakistan, the US, the Philippines and Guatemala.

The Committee to Protect Journalists recently published a report on the numbers of journalists imprisoned by Governments. At least 251 journalists were jailed in 2018, underlining authoritarian Governments’ ongoing attempts to close down critical reporting. According to the CPJ, Turkey, China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Eritrea are imprisoning the highest number of journalists, as the right hon. Member for Maldon mentioned. For the third year in a row, Turkey, China and Egypt are responsible for more than half of those jailed around the world. Turkey again has the dubious distinction of taking the number one spot, further to President Erdogan’s attempt to stifle all peaceful debate, criticism and potential challenge to his rule. That includes a number of people I met when I took an IPU delegation to Turkey, where we met journalists who were in fear of being imprisoned and subsequently have been arrested and imprisoned. People feel that fear daily: they do not know when a knock at the door will come.

For the third consecutive year, every one of the 68 journalists behind bars in Turkey was facing anti-state charges, including alleged membership of a terrorist organisation, such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or the Fethullah Terrorist Organisation, spreading propaganda or engagement in terrorist propaganda. Although Erdogan began the crackdown against his opponents before the 2016 failed coup, repression has undoubtedly intensified since then, with the closure of more than 100 news outlets by decree and thousands of journalists losing their jobs as a result. As mentioned last week, a Turkish journalist and member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, was sentenced to more than a year in jail for her work on the Paradise papers, simply because those papers and that investigation revealed details of the business activities of the country’s former Prime Minister, who is now speaker of the Turkish Parliament, Binali Yildirim, and his sons, despite the Yildirim family admitting that the articles about their Maltese businesses were accurate.

Sadly I appear to have run out of time already, but I want to say that I went to Iraq after the invasion—or the liberation—and met journalists who had to write their copy at that time according to press releases given to them by the Iraqi Government. Of course, they were what Saddam Hussein wanted them to say, rather than their own observations.

I pay tribute to the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, based in Islington, which trains journalists and was then in the process of retraining journalists in Iraq. I went along to one of those meetings and asked whether they had any questions for me. One of them put his hand up and said, “Why did it take you so long to get here?” They now felt that they were free, which they had not been before, to observe what was going on in their country and give accurate reports on the excesses of the Saddam Hussein regime. As an ex-journalist myself, I value the freedom that journalists have and take all over the world, and the bravery they show when they are likely to get into trouble in the countries in which they are reporting.