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July 13, 2020

New committee for journalists’ safety promises national action plan as first priority

By John Whittingdale

In every country, journalists perform a vital function in highlighting injustice, exposing corruption and holding Governments to account.

A free media is one of the essential bulwarks of a free society. However, too often, journalists are subject to intimidation, violence, imprisonment and sometimes even murder.

One year ago, the UK Government hosted the first Global Conference on Media Freedom and called upon countries to do more to protect media freedom and journalists’ safety.

Sadly, since then, the number of journalists imprisoned or killed has continued to rise. Even in the UK, we have seen worrying incidents of journalists being threatened or abused.

In May I joined the National Union of Journalists, the Society of Editors and others in condemning threats made against journalists working for three Belfast-based newspapers. Today I will co-chair, with the Minister for Safeguarding in the Home Office, Victoria Atkins, the first meeting of the new National Committee for the Safety of Journalists.

It will bring together representatives from the police, prosecuting authorities, NGOs, the BBC and press organisations.

Our first priority will be to devise a National Action Plan on the Safety of Journalists and set out what steps are currently being taken and can be taken in future so we can better protect journalists from violence or threats.

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Nobody should have to fear for their safety when doing their job. The Committee will invite journalists to share their experiences and I look forward to hearing from and working with them.

The importance of their role in society cannot be overstated. The Covid-19 pandemic and the rise of misinformation we have seen over the past few months has demonstrated the value of accurate information and trusted news sources in times of crisis.

But the sad and shocking examples of journalists being targeted or attacked for simply doing their jobs, for example while reporting on protests, or the developing Covid-19 crisis, is completely unacceptable.

The UK is not without reproach, and while we don’t face the same challenges as some other countries, we must be proactive in creating a safer environment for journalists to work.

This Committee has a domestic focus, but observers have been invited to attend meetings to provide insight into the safety challenges facing journalists operating overseas.

I am pleased that representatives of UNESCO and the International Federation of Journalists are also attending as well as Lord Ahmad, Minister of State in the Foreign Office. I hope that by demonstrating our commitment to the safety of journalists then others will follow.

John Whittingdale (pictured) is Minister for Media and Data.

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