Journalists: International Protection

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:54 pm on 9th January 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of John Grogan John Grogan Labour, Keighley 4:54 pm, 9th January 2019

George Orwell said:

“Freedom of the press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticise and oppose.”

I will offer three reflections on that statement in three minutes, but before I do so, I congratulate Mr Whittingdale on his exposition, which demonstrated his typical clarity and brevity. Whatever our political differences, he and I have always shared an enthusiasm—a love, even—for freedom of the press.

That is my first point: the decisions we make in this House matter. In our nation we are lucky to live among only 13% of humanity who enjoy freedom of the press. The vast bulk of the world does not. When we make decisions, as we did last year about whether there should be punitive damages on news organisations that did not sign up to a state-approved regulator, those decisions matter, because dictators around the world look at what we are doing. I am proud that our party changed its policy and our deputy leader said that never again would we advocate that. When did “mainstream media” become a term of abuse? When did “balanced news” become a term of abuse? That has entered our politics as well, and what we do here is important for what happens in the rest of the world.

Secondly, the BBC has been mentioned. I was up early on Sunday morning and heard a religious and ethical programme on Radio 4 called “Sunday” on which Lyse Doucet, the BBC’s chief international correspondent, spoke about this very issue. She said that it is the worst time ever in the world to be a journalist, and she explained that statement in a couple of ways. She said that the respect that journalists reporting internationally around the world enjoyed when she was young is less apparent now. She said that that was partly because in the past, even the most hard-nosed terrorist organisations needed journalists to get their message out. Now they do not need them so much, and there are more kidnappings. She also pointed out that 98% of journalists who are imprisoned are local journalists, not renowned international journalists from the BBC or CNN. That is because, in the past 20 years, such journalists have had more outlets through social media and so on, but they are also very exposed to oppressive regimes around the world. We must admire and honour them.

My final point relates to another thing that the right hon. Gentleman and I share: a love of Ukraine, which has already been mentioned in this debate. In November or December last year, I went to a commemoration of 85 years since the holodomor—Stalin’s man-made famine in Ukraine. It was British journalists, Gareth Jones and Malcolm Muggeridge, who helped to expose it, all those years ago. Gareth Jones’ reporting was printed in The Guardian, which was doing good work then, as it is now. That fearless journalism is needed in Ukraine now, particularly in Donbass, to give truthful accounts of what is happening and what Putin’s regime is up to in that part of the world. Never has freedom of the press been more needed in Ukraine and, indeed, throughout the world.