The surprise announcement by the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, of a £1m fund to safeguard press freedom around the world is welcome. Yes, the sum is tiny. And, yes, critics will view it as an attempt by him, or the government, to gain political kudos. And yes again, it represents the very minimum of effort in the face of the daily, deadly threats to journalism in countries where we maintain business and diplomatic links.
For all that, it is a small, somewhat hesitant, step in the right direction. It is a recognition, albeit belated, of the scale of the crisis in which, to quote Johnson, “worldwide attacks on journalists are rife and increasing”. Where has he been living for the past decade? Those attacks have been “rife and increasing” year upon year. Scores of journalists have been murdered in Mexico, Russia, Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Pakistan.
Hundreds more journalists have been jailed on bogus charges and intimidated in Turkey, Egypt, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan. The list of dishonour now comes closer to home with the killing last month, by car bomb in Malta, of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a reporter who was investigating political corruption. Rightly, there have been calls for an independent investigation, including to the European commission by the heads of eight of the world’s largest news organisations, including the Guardian’s editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner.
Press freedom is under perpetual attack in so many countries where democracy is unstable or does not exist at all. In such places, the journalists who try to inform the people of what is happening are nothing short of heroes and deserve all the help we can give them. To that end, Johnson might consider giving support to an initiative just launched by the international press freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) – of which I sit on the UK board – and the Freedom Voices Network, which is going to publicise the work of journalists that their murderers wish to suppress.
Called Forbidden Stories, it aims to give life to the investigations carried out by journalists who have been killed or arrested. The messengers may be murdered or incarcerated, but their messages will survive. By publishing the information that journalists risk their lives to report, RWB’s secretary general, Christophe Deloire, says the project will “use journalism to defend journalism”. He believes it will “send a strong message to press freedom’s predators throughout the world”.