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December 5, 2016

Reporters Without Borders secretary general warns of global decline in press freedom

By Dominic Ponsford

The global head of Reporters Without Borders – known internationally as Reporters sans frontières (RSF) – has warned of a global decline in press freedom in recent years.

RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire was speaking to Press Gazette as the international press freedom charity today launches its first UK office. London will be used as a base to campaign for both press freedom globally and on issues which specifically affect the UK.

Tackling the issue of journalists being killed for doing their job is the group’s top priority, said Deloire.

“Tragically, more than 800 journalists have been killed in the past ten years in the course of doing their jobs, and these figures have not decreased despite the fact that resolutions have been adopted by various UN bodies.

“An action plan is being implemented by UNESCO on behalf of the UN. But Ban Ki-moon himself said in a report last year that the UN system pertaining to the protection of journalists is failing.

“That’s why we believe that to effectively implement international law regarding journalists’ safety, to compel member states of the UN to abide by their obligations, we have to set up a concrete mechanism”.

He said that one of the first decisions of the next UN secretary general should be to appoint “a person of real political weight” to be their special representative for the safety of journalists.

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RSF is supporting this year’s Marie Colvin prize at tomorrow’s British Journalism Awards. Deloire warned that, as with Colvin’s death in Syria in 2012, it is not a case of journalists simply being “in the wrong place at the wrong time”, he said: “journalists are being intentionally targeted”.


Speaking more widely about press freedom challenges around the world, Deloire said that RSF’s annual Press Freedom Index ranking 180 countries has tracked an overall global decline.

He said: “In recent years we have noticed that the situation is worsening all over the world due to very different factors, from blasphemy laws to surveillance laws. I will never compare surveillance laws in despotic countries and democratic countries, but even in Europe, as is the case in Hungary and Poland, there are governments working to take control of the flow of information.

“Even the European model is eroding. If we do not want to lose all of our freedoms, we must defend the very freedom that allows us to verify the existence of all other freedoms.”

He said that China appears to want to set up a “new world media order” and that “there are more and more Chinas”.

“We wonder if Turkey is not step-by-step becoming a new China. Turkey is among the countries where we are most active.

“We worked in Turkey before the coup attempt and had some success with the release of journalists, but since July it has become more difficult to achieve results. Even RSF’s representative in Turkey,Erol Önderoglu, has been jailed. We succeeded in getting him released, but he still faces criminal charges, and his trial will begin on 11 January”.

Speaking about the global climate post Donald Trump’s US election win, he said: “In countries like Turkey, US diplomacy has been extremely useful in exercising pressure and resolving problems. We fear that this leadership role may decrease in the future.

“We may need to call more on the European Union and on individual states, including the UK, to take a stronger lead in exercising diplomacy”.

Asked what British journalists can do help the cause of improving global press freedom, he said: “They have to resist self-censorship and carry out their jobs in the best possible way to demonstrate every day how important journalism is for the future of societies and for all individuals.

“If we want to defend journalism, we must prove that it is needed, and it is most useful when it is high quality. There is a direct link between high quality journalism and press freedom. There is no real freedom without quality journalism”.

RSF announced today that former Sunday Express and Sunday Mirror editor Eve Pollard will be the first chair of its UK board of advisers.

Other members of the board are:

  • Director of news and current affairs of the BBC James Harding
  • Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow
  • Editorial Director of The Sunday Times Eleanor Mills
  • Pofessor of journalism and columnist for The Guardian Roy Greenslade
  • Executive drector of the European Publishers’ Council Angela Mills-Wade
  • Doughty Street Chambers barrister Siobhan Grey
  • UK chairman and media freedom representative of the rssociation of European journalists William Horsley
  • And executive director of the Mo Ibrahim foundation Nathalie Delapalme.

    This article was produced in association with RSF which is a supporter of the British Journalism Awards.

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