This morning I took part in a debate organised for World Press Freedom Day by UNESCO at the House of Commons. The motion was "World press freedom is in retreat". I joined Stephen Whittle from the Reuters School of Journalism in opposing the motion. The arguments I used can be seen in THIS short article on Comment is Free. My arguments centred around the notion that the internet has made press freedom easier in many cases.
One look around the room told me we were on a hiding to nothing in the debate, and I wasn't wrong, but it was a good natured debate and great fun. It was dominated by people from Russia, or experts on Russia, who made a good first of telling us that Russian people are fed up with seeing news programmes which all said the same thing. Funny, I thought, that could apply to the UK too! It was astonishing that they all seemed to hark back to the 'good old days' of the Soviet Union. I don't seem to remember there being a lot of freedom of the press about then either. It is, however, truly terrible how journalists in Russia are suffering persecution, but it is not only in Russia. Look at Zimbabwe. Stephen Whittle made the excellent point that good journalism is never easy. Reporting in difficult circumstances is something which has always attracted pressure and criticism from authorities.
The contribution which really got my goat was from Ben Hutchison, who is Vice Chairman of the D-Notice Committee. This is the committee which decides what newspapers may report on issues of national security. He kept a straight face while arguing against the very kind of censorship his own committee has the power to impose. Breathtaking hypocrisy.
Needless to say we lost the vote at the end of the two hours, but I much enjoyed myself.