One of the arguments we often hear coming out of Westminster, highlighting how fantastic and democratic the UK is, often refers to our press freedom laws. How this represents UK democracy and shows that we are at the forefront of the western powers in this matter. It is therefore of great importance that we think about this and the recent actions taken by the Tory led Westminster UK government.
Last week Boris Johnson and his ministers condemned environmental activists as a threat to press freedom for blockading printing plants in protest at newspapers’ climate coverage. It therefore seem hypocritical that the very same administration seems to have caught the attention of the Council of Europe which monitors human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe and is responsible for overseeing the European Convention of Human Rights.
The organisation’s media freedom alert system also catalogues threats to media freedom such as attacks on the physical safety of journalists, harassment and intimidation, detention and imprisonment. Since March the UK government has appeared on this system three times.
The new alert, issued by the organisation 05/09/2020, was classified by the watchdog as an “act having a chilling effect on media freedom” and put under the “state” category – because the British state was the source of the threat.
The Council of Europe issued this Level 2 “media freedom alert” after Ministry of Defence press officers refused to deal with Declassified UK, a website focusing on foreign and defence policy stories. There were investigating the role of the British military in the crisis in the Yemen.
The last time the UK was issued with a state-focused media freedom alert was in May this year, when an OpenDemocracy journalist was banned from asking questions as the UK government’s daily coronavirus press conference. Eventually OpenDemocracy sued the government but actually over the governments refusal to release the ‘Russian report’ . The investigation concluded that the UK government failed to investigate Russia’s suspected interference in the Brexit referendum and Scottish referendum. A panel said that those running the country “avoided asking the question.”
Sources close to the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee said that only a threat to national security can justify redacting names from a report. Downing Street acted “beyond the conventions of its authority” by demanding that specific names be removed from a report into Russian influence on UK politics by the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), according to sources close to the committee.
The redactions are understood to have been ordered to protect London-based Russian oligarchs who are either leading donors to the Conservative Party or individuals regarded as friends of the prime minister, Boris Johnson.
The government was also criticised in February after Downing Street excluded some outlets, including The Independent, from technical briefing, with an official telling excluded journalist: “We are welcome to brief whoever we want whenever we want.”
It is obvious that the present conservative UK government clearly do not respect the Council of Europe nor the right to a free press which we in the UK should have if living in a democracy ? It should also be mentioned that the main source of these reports are from ‘The Independent’ news paper not the BBC ? The attitude of this government is not commensurate with that of a democracy. One more reason for Scottish independence don‘t you think ???