Donald Trump encouraging ‘hostile’ climate for journalists, says ex-minister
Donald Trump has encouraged a climate that provokes hostility towards journalists, a senior Conservative MP has claimed in a House of Commons debate on press freedom.
The claim was made by John Whittingdale, ex-culture secretary and former chairman of the Commons’ culture, media and sport committee, as he called for greater international protection of journalists.
Opening a packed debate in Westminster Hall, Mr Whittingdale told MPs that 2018 was one of the worst years on record for journalists being killed, imprisoned or held hostage.
He said that according to non-profit organisation Reporters Sans Frontieres, 80 journalists were killed, 348 held in prison and 60 held hostage.
Afghanistan, Syria, Mexico, Yemen and India had the worst records, he said.
The most high-profile death was Jamal Khashoggi in October in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Mr Whittingdale added.
The worst countries for imprisonment of journalists were China, Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
But Mr Whittingdale also said: “The climate that provokes hostility towards journalism is, to some extent, encouraged by intemperate remarks from people who really should know better.
“I do not want to single out President Trump, but I think his attacks on journalism generally have not helped in this regard.”
He added: “When someone such as the president of the Czech Republic holds up a mock assault rifle labelled ‘for journalists’, that clearly will lead to a climate in which journalists have reason to fear.”
Mr Whittingdale said a move by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to organise an international conference on the protection of journalists later this year was a “very welcome initiative”.
And he said that as the newly elected chairman of the British group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union he intended to organise a parallel conference alongside the event planned by the Foreign Office.
Responding in the debate for the government, Foreign Office minister Mark Field told MPs: “There can be no doubt that media freedom is under increasing attack across the world.
“Countries are increasingly using restrictive laws to stifle freedom of expression and to prevent the functioning of an independent media. The climate is worsening fast.”
Speaking about the media in the UK, Mr Field – who in 2006 was reported to have previously had an 18-month affair with fellow Tory Liz Truss – said there had long been a culture of supporting freedom of expression.
“We are rightly proud of our tradition of an independent media, which underpins the fundamental values of our democracy,” he said.
“As a consequence, we collectively tolerate the excesses and at times the low journalistic standards of our tabloid press. That is a price we have to pay.
“However, in recent days in the vicinity of the House, the Sky News journalist Kay Burley and the Conservative MP Anna Soubry were subjected to unacceptable levels of harassment.”
On the Foreign Office plans for a conference on media freedom, Mr Field said: “Our aim is to bring the issue to global attention, promote the value and benefits of a free media – indeed, a free internet – to a wider audience and mobilise an international consensus behind the protection of journalists, as the obvious guardians of those freedoms.”