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July 10, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 8:03am

Amal Clooney warns against ‘lip service’ to press freedom as Hunt pledges £3m to media defence fund

By Freddy Mayhew

Amal Clooney has warned world leaders that “signing pledges and making speeches is not enough” when it comes to supporting media freedom at the first ever international conference on the issue.

Clooney, a human rights lawyer who spent hundreds of hours working to defend jailed Reuters pair Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe oo who were both freed from a Myanmar prison earlier this year, spoke at the Defend Media Freedom conference co-hosted by the UK and Canadian governments in London today.

She said: “It is clear that the challenges to media freedom are urgent and they are global, but an international campaign like the one being launched today can only bring about positive change if governments are willing to pay more than lip service to the ideal of media freedom.

“All governments say they support press freedom, the right is even enshrined in North Korea’s constitution. What matters is enforcement of that right and enforcement depends on states.”

She said ministers must “must make sure that their laws respect media freedom and that their police prosecutors, judges and citizens do the same”.

Clooney also chided world leaders for responding with “little more than a collective shrug” following the death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in at a Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year.

The wife of Hollywood actor George has been appointed the Foreign Office’s special envoy on media freedom.

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She will co-chair a panel of legal experts which will “advise countries on how to strengthen the legal protection of journalists” which is set to begin its work after the two-day conference ends tomorrow.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced five “practical steps” the UK Government would be taking alongside its international partners, of which the legal panel is one.

Among them was a pledge to pay £3m over the next five years into a new Global Media Defence Fund that will provide legal advice for journalists and safety training for those reporting from conflict zones, according to Hunt. UNESCO will administer the funds.

Hunt also said an international task force would be set up “to help governments to deliver their commitments on media freedom, including by developing national action plans”.

He said the task force would meet to review progress every year at the UN General Assembly “commending those countries where media freedom is getting better and agreeing what should be done where it is not”.

Hunt, who is vying to become the next UK Prime Minister, also pledged that the British Government would consider the “potential impact on press freedom” whenever a new law is proposed or an existing one amended.

A £15m fund or new programmes to promote media freedom worldwide has also been set up, it was announced at the conference earlier today.

Finally, Hunt said he and Canadian Foreign Affairs minister Chrystia Freeland and a “group of like-minded countries” would “lobby in unison when media freedom comes under attack”.

He added: “Our aim is for this to be a rapid response mechanism, helping foreign ministers and ambassadors to react as one when abuses take place.”

Hunt said: “In a world where a Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, was murdered inside a Saudi diplomatic property – and a talented young journalist, Lyra McKee, was shot dead by dissident republicans in Northern Ireland – it would be easy to succumb to fatalism.

“But we must resist that. Because if we act together we can shine a spotlight on abuses and impose a diplomatic price on those who would harm journalists or lock them up for doing their jobs.”

He went on: “The struggle for media freedom is being waged day after day, not in conference centres like this but by independent journalists in authoritarian states – by vigilant bloggers who expose corruption and by courageous activists who publish the evidence of human rights abuses.

“There is no place for neutrality in this struggle. We are on the side of those who seek to report the truth and bring the facts to light. We stand against those who suppress or censor or exact revenge.”

Picture: Press Gazette

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