The head of the BBC has said he wants the corporation to play its part “to the full” in the Government’s new campaign to defend media freedom.
The UK and Canada are jointly hosting a two-day conference on the issue in London, ending today, which has been attended by Amal Clooney and delegates from more than 100 countries.
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Lord Tony Hall, director general of the BBC, said he was determined to use the corporation’s “unique reach and trusted voice to lead the way – to create a global alliance for integrity in news”.
The BBC now reaches an audience of 426m each week, which Lord Hall said was “largely thanks to the UK Government and its recognition of the part we can play in achieving common goals”.
He added: “We’re ready to do even more to help promote freedom and democracy worldwide. We want to play our part to the full at the heart of this critical campaign.”
Lord Hall used his speech earlier to warn that the world was in “the midst of the biggest assault on truth – and therefore democracy – since the 1930s”.
He added: “Bad actors and repressive regimes have not only weaponised misinformation, some have industrialised its production and packaged it for a global audience. All those who believe in integrity in news must, together, turn the tide.”
He said the threats faced by journalists were becoming “ever more insidious” and highlighted the plight of BBC Persian staff who, along with their families, “continue to be harassed and persecuted by the Iranian authorities” even after years of “concerted intimidation” by Iran.
“The reality is that our staff are now facing growing intimidation and interference worldwide,” Lord Hall said. “We need to reassert the core principles of good journalism like never before.”
He went on: “In a sea of disinformation and partisan reporting, we need to stand up for independence, impartiality, and reporting without fear or favour.”
He said this meant “boots on the ground – first-hand, on-the-spot reporting from the front line”.
He went on: “It means an even greater focus on specialism – experts in their field who can interpret the facts and offer trusted judgments. And it means doing more to empower our audiences – by giving them more context and more explanation.”
He said journalists also needed to “take the fight directly to misinformation and fake news”, adding: “We have to remind ourselves what’s at stake: an assault on truth is an assault on democracy. Because a democracy that cannot rely on access to the truth is no democracy at all.”