Cry freedom: long road to open journalism in the Commonwealth

Monday 13 March 2017

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Hostility to press freedom and journalistic independence is growing across the Commonwealth and journalists face increasing obstruction and even physical danger. So how is this 52-nation group responding to these new threats which challenge democracy and human rights as much as freedom of speech?

These issues were examined at The Commonwealth and Challenges to Media Freedom conference at Senate House (4–5 April), which brought together leading journalists, academics, lawyers, magistrates, judges, policymakers and human rights practitioners. It was organised by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, as the inaugural event of the School’s Centre of Commonwealth and Media Freedom.

‘Freedom of speech is an integral part of a functioning democracy, and in these days of big shifts, there is even more of a need for investigative journalists to hold the powerful to account’, explains Dr Sue Onslow, conference convenor and deputy director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.

‘But across the Commonwealth there are multiple pressures on media freedoms: from shifting technology delivery, governments and their allies, hostile groups, criminal networks, as well as poor legal protection and from media professionals themselves. This is a particularly timely meeting, to discuss current common challenges and to contribute to debates within the Commonwealth on ways forward.’

Among the speakers were Baroness Patricia Scotland, the first British citizen to be elected secretary-general of the Commonwealth in its 66-year history, and leading media lawyer Mark Stephens. They were joined by representatives from some 13 Commonwealth countries and top UK publications such as The Sunday Times and The Telegraph to address government interference and restrictions in countries such as Malaysia, South Africa, Botswana, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda.

Other debate topics focussed on the challenges journalists, bloggers and social media users face in Kashmir, Pakistan and Bangladesh, a post-Levenson UK and regional threats and personal violence in India.

Rita Payne, emeritus president, Commonwealth Journalists Association, discusses main threats to press freedom across the Commonwealth

 

Syed Badrul Ahsan, associate editor, Asian Age, on the particular challenges facing journalists in Bangladesh 

 

Martin Plaut, former BBC World Service's Africa editor, talks about pressures on press freedom in South Africa

 

The Commonwealth and Challenges to Media Freedom conference is sponsored by the School of Advanced Study, Asian Affairs, The Commonwealth Press Union Media Trust and The Round Table/the Commonwealth journal of international affairs.

Ends

Notes to Editors:

  1. For all enquiries, please contact: Maureen McTaggart, Media and Public Relations Officer, School of Advanced Study, University of London +44 (0)20 7862 8859 / maureen.mctaggart@sas.ac.uk.
     
  2. The Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS) is the only postgraduate academic institution in the UK devoted to the study of the Commonwealth. Founded in 1949, its purpose is to promote interdisciplinary and inter-regional research on the Commonwealth and its member nations in the fields of history, politics and other social sciences.  Its areas of specialism include international development, governance, human rights, north-south relations and conflict and security.  The Institute of Commonwealth Studies is a member institute of the School of Advanced Study, University of London. www.commonwealth.sas.ac.uk or follow the institute on Twitter at @ICWS_SAS
     
  3. The School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities. SAS and its member institutes offer unparalleled academic opportunities, facilities and stimulation across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. In 2015-16, SAS: welcomed 786 research fellows and associates; held 2,007 research dissemination events; received 24.4 million visits to its digital research resources and platforms; and received 194,145 visits to its specialist libraries and collections. The School also leads the UK’s only nationwide festival of the humanities: Being Human. Find out more at www.sas.ac.uk or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews.
     
  4. The University of London is a federal University and is one of the oldest, largest and most diverse universities in the UK. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University is recognised globally as a world leader in Higher Education. Its members are 18 self-governing member institutions of outstanding reputation, and nine research institutes. Learn more about the University of London at http://www.london.ac.uk