Amal Clooney, the UK’s new special envoy on media freedom, has blamed US President Donald Trump for hastening the decline in press freedom worldwide.
Clooney was speaking today on the second day of the Defend Media Freedom conference taking place in London, which is being co-hosted by the UK and Canadian governments.
She warned: “The world is upside down when those who commit the worst abuses are free when those who report on them are not – and if we don’t turn things around democracy cannot survive.
“The global decline in press freedom has been hastened by rhetoric from the leader of the world’s most powerful democracy and it will not be reversed without strong leadership from others.”
More than 1,000 delegates from a number of countries are understood to have attended the two-day conference.
Yesterday Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced five “practical steps” the UK and its international partners would be taking to support media freedom.
Among them is the establishment of a panel of legal experts which will advise governments on how they could better protect journalists and media freedom.
Clooney revealed this morning that the panel would have former UK Supreme Court president Lord David Neuberger as its chairman, with Clooney, a human rights lawyer, as deputy chairman.
Also on the panel is a former vice president of European Court of Human Rights, a US federal appeals court judge, a former constitutional court judge from Colombia and the former attorney general of Canada as well as leading UK barristers, US and Korean academics, and media freedom advocates.
Clooney said her vision for the panel, which she had set out in discussions with Hunt, is based on issues that she considers priorities for reform.
She listed them as:
“- The institutional and consistent use of sanctions regimes to impose serious financial consequences on state officials who abuse media freedom
– Enhanced consular duties when a journalist is detained abroad
– A system of visas for persecuted journalists seeking asylum
– An international investigative team that includes lawyers and forensic experts and can be deployed when a journalist is attacked
– The promulgation of model legislation to guide states on the free speech guarantees that must be respected under international law.”
Clooney admitted to scepticism about an international campaign on media freedom, saying she “thought long and hard about whether this was likely to have impact or be just another conference establishing just another committee”.
Canadian Foreign Affairs minister Chrystia Freeland, a former journalist, later admitted to some scepticism herself in holding the media freedom conference, which was suggested by Hunt. “There’s a bit of milk and motherhood to it,” she said, but both women agreed it could be a force for good.
Clooney, wife of Hollywood actor George, said: “I believe that this campaign is important because the international system we have in place is broken.
“It is so broken that we have record levels of journalists being jailed and killed. It is so broken that people like Jamal Khashoggi can be murdered on foreign soil without any co-ordinated investigation, open trial or effective accountability.
“So any new initiative that has the potential to move the needle in the right direction is worth considering.”
She said journalists also had a role to play in engaging in fact-based reporting that “values accuracy over speed or clicks”.
She added: “I hope we will look back on this day as the beginning of an era of change.”
Hunt also spoke of the importance of a free media in giving legitimacy to democratically elected politicians. He said: “If you win an election with a free media you have a legitimacy that you don’t have if you grab power with control of the media.”
Picture: Press Gazette