On World Press Freedom Day 2013

UNESCO World Press Freedom Day

Today is World Press Freedom Day, as has been every 3 May for the past 20 years. Not that many would notice, mind you, despite the best efforts of UNESCO, the world’s journalists and others in highlighting the need for a news media free of political and corporate interference, and violence inflicted upon the messengers.

Britain has a free press, and, anathema though it be to many publishers and journalists, myself included, with a Leveson-style regime the press would remain relatively free. Now this may be contrary to the hyperbole surrounding the public and journalistic trade debate on press regulation, but it nonetheless remains true.

Many countries do not have anything like the free press we enjoy in Britain – or offhandedly ignore, depending on one’s political and moral inclinations – and in some countries journalists are targets for all sorts of nastiness, with much of it state sanctioned. In 2012 some 70 journalists were murdered in the line of duty, and we have their names. So far this year 17 have been killed.

Other abuses – and this includes in the UK – range from obstruction of journalists covering political demonstrations and other news stories, through to confiscation of material and legal orders to turn over same in morally compromising service to the state.

We have a free press in Britain, but could so easily lose it as a result of public complacency as well as interference by politicians and business interests, and the journalistic malfeasance which gave rise to Leveson after being uncovered by other journalists.

Opinion within the National Union of Journalists may be divided over Leveson, but I like to think that we retain the sense of broader perspective required in our work. Leveson and newspaper regulation is but one part of the struggle to foster and maintain a free press.

Talking of broader perspective, later today I shall report on an eve of World Press Freedom Day event held on Thursday at the NUJ’s London headquarters. The subject of this meeting in a full to bursting conference room in Headland House was the lack of press freedom and personal plight of journalists in Turkey: an Islamist-lite state and would-be member of the European Union.