UK and Canada co-host world’s first ministerial conference on media freedom

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland will next month co-host in London the world’s first ministerial conference on media freedom. Our aim is to shine a light on abuses and raise the cost for those who would harm journalists for doing their jobs.

The London Conference will bring together foreign ministers with journalists, media professionals and leaders of international and civil society organisations. We look forward to broad international participation, including from Kuwait.

The United Kingdom and Canada are committed to promoting media freedom across the globe. It is an essential component of economic prosperity, social development and resilient democracy. It is a right to which all governments have committed, as enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees “freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reflected in February this year that the media has become significantly less free in recent years, including through unprecedented threats to journalists and media outlets, and attempts to control the media.

Media freedom is indeed under attack across the world. Reporters Without Borders assess that 2018 was the most dangerous year on record to be a journalist – at least 99 journalists were killed, another 348 imprisoned and 60 held hostage. The latest World Press Freedom Index describes how the number of countries regarded as safe, where journalists can work in complete security, continues to decline. Nine in ten cases of killed journalists remain unresolved.

Journalists face particular threats in war zones and at the hands of extremists. Unfortunately, however, journalists face dangers beyond conflict and extremism. Media freedom is also under threat from increasing intolerance of independent reporting, widespread and growing corruption, and the breakdown of law and order.

We must work together to stop the alarming increase in attacks on journalists and the media. Next month’s conference is an important milestone in our two governments’ wider media freedom campaign. It is a response to the UN Secretary-General’s call “to protect journalists and media workers and to create the conditions they need to do their essential work, and to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of attacks”.

Canada and the UK want to see a renewed and strengthened commitment from the international community to the safety and protection of journalists. The conference itself will seek to arrive at commitments and a joint pledge along four main themes:

First, participants will discuss measures to enhance the safety of journalists, with particular focus on female journalists, activating international mechanisms, and ways of ending impunity through more prosecutions of those abusing journalists’ rights.

Second, the conference will look at national legal and professional frameworks for protecting journalists and safeguarding media freedom. We anticipate in particular the launch of Joint Declarations by Special Rapporteurs on Media Freedom.

Third, there will be a focus on rebuilding trust in the media and countering disinformation.

Fourth, we will look at media ownership and its impact on media independence, with a view to coming up with recommendations on media sustainability.

Our joint expectation is that the London Conference will inspire common action worldwide. All participants will be invited to make a solemn pledge and specific commitments. Countries will also be encouraged to design National Action Plans on journalists’ safety, supported by an international task force. We also plan to hold the first meeting of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom, to be convened by the Foreign Secretary’s Special Envoy Amal Clooney, and to launch a global Media Freedom Defence Fund to support follow-up.

As the British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a recent speech, “We want to build a coalition of governments committed to a stronger diplomatic response when media freedom is curtailed, and to ensure greater support when countries do the right thing, remove restrictions and push out the frontiers of free expression…. A free media is not an optional extra, still less a ‘Western’ value: it forms one pillar of a thriving society, benefiting people in every corner of the world.”

The Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hon. Chrystia Freeland, PC, MP said :
In any democracy, journalists must have the ability to report facts freely, to defend, expose and advance the truth without fear of retaliation, reprisal, violence or imprisonment. Canada will always defend this right. We are very pleased to co-host this conference with the United Kingdom, and we look forward to joining all participants in London later this year.”

By Michael Davenport, British Ambassador to Kuwait
Louis-Pierre Emond, Canadian Ambassador to Kuwait