UK plans Media Freedom Coalition to address attacks on journalists

London, August 4 

As one of the key outcomes of the recent Global Conference for Media Freedom in London, the UK government has announced a new Media Freedom Coalition to address attacks on journalists around the world.

The coalition, devised by UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland as co-hosts of the conference held last month, will comprise governments around the world who sign up to a pledge that commits them to speak out and take action together when media freedom is at risk.

"The fact that over 100 countries were represented at the Global Conference for Media Freedom, with over 1,500 delegates from all regions of the world, demonstrates the global resonance of this issue," said Hunt, in reference to the new coalition which will take shape over the course of the year.

"By shining a light on attacks against journalists, the new coalition will aim to change political calculations and increase the costs to those who abuse media freedom,” he said.

From India, Vinod K Jose, Executive Editor of 'The Caravan', was one of the speakers in the Conference. In the panel titled 'Religion and the Media; Telling the Untold Story,' Jose made a presentation on the increased instances of mob lynchings and targeted violence in India. 

"India's Constitution promises secular values and freedom of religion is a fundamental right in India… But there are violations in the nature of targeted killings on Muslims and Christians," said Jose, as he played videos of attacks on religious minorities which hit the headlines in recent weeks and months. Going further back to trace the tensions between majority and minority religious groups in India, he spoke of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots during what he described as the "height of the Congress Party rule".

"Over 2,700 Sikhs were killed. Workers of the Congress Party and also members of the RSS, the Hindu right-wing group, had played a role in the killings… What we arrive at from various studies is that these attacks are not spontaneous. There is a systematic plan to it. They are not organic but orchestrated,” he said.

Jose's presentation highlighted the declining global rank of India on important parameters such as press freedom.

However, his presentation had attracted a rebuttal from Prasar Bharati chairman, A Surya Prakash, sitting back in the audience urging the gathering not to believe all aspects of Jose's presentation. "All of us take strong exception to this presentation on India," he said.

Prakash also accused Jose of portraying India in a bad light. A previous PTI story reported Prakash's attack on Jose, and quoted the Prasar Bharati chairman describing Jose's presentation as "anti-India."

The story titled, "Prasar Bharati chief slams Indian magazine editor for ‘blatant' anti-India presentation at global meet," reported that Jose blamed only the RSS for the 1984 Sikh riots, which was an inaccurate representation of Jose's presentation which also named the Congress for the violence.

The same panel comprised of media representatives from the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Media Diversity Institute and World Watch Monitor and was chaired by Lord Tariq Ahmad, UK Minister for Commonwealth and the Prime Minister's Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

They Conference also announced the creation of a new Global Media Defence Fund. The UK government committed 18 million pounds to improve media freedom across the world. The new Global Media Defence Fund will be administered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The Global Conference for Media Freedom, led by the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), is expected to become an annual event where the progress on many of the initiatives launched at the inaugural summit will be assessed.

Besides the coalition, the conference also unveiled a High Level Panel of Legal Experts led by human rights lawyer and UK's Special Envoy on Media Freedom Amal Clooney to examine legal and policy initiatives that countries can adopt to improve media freedom. Chaired by UK judge Lord David Neuberger, the panel also includes Indian lawyer Karuna Nundy as part of a 16-member team from around the world.

"I look forward to working alongside them to develop and advance legal frameworks that can help to protect media freedom around the world," said Clooney, who was the driving force behind the first Global Conference for Media Freedom.

The conference covered a range of issues and topics, including countering fake news, reporting from tough war zones and building strong global support systems for journalists. — PTI