Human Rights Organization Issues Press Freedom Alert Over UK Government's Refusal To Speak To Critical Journalists
from the skin-so-thin-these-days dept
The UK government is fine with press freedom as long as the press confines itself to the unwritten guidelines the government uses to restrict it. Publish too many leaked documents? Well, the government will show up and destroy your computer equipment. Report on the wrong stuff? The government will kick you out of Parliament and tell you not to talk about why you’ve been kicked out. Publish names of people targeted by UK government investigations in the Land of the First Amendment and across the pond from the UK? Expect a UK court to issue a ruling telling you to abide by laws that don’t govern the country you’re actually publishing in.
The UK government is again stepping on free press toes. And human rights organizations have noticed. Independent journalism outfit Declassified UK was recently told its journalistic services were no longer required… or would at least no longer be respected by the Ministry of Defence.
The UK government has been formally warned for threatening press freedom after it blacklisted a group of investigative journalists and denied them access to information.
The Council of Europe issued the 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.
As the Independent reports, this aligns the UK government with Russia and Turkey, which received similar alerts recently for, respectively, beating and jailing journalists critical of their governments.
Here’s the chain of events that led to the Level 2 alert, as reported by Marcela Kunova of journalism.co.uk.
On 25 August, Declassify UK journalist Phil Miller contacted the MoD’s press office to request a comment about the arrest of Ahmed al Babati, a serving soldier, near Downing Street for protesting the United Kingdom’s involvement in Saudi Arabia’s bombing of Yemen.
Miller was promised information at first but the press office later called him to enquire about the publication’s editorial coverage of the conflict.
“What sort of angle have you taken on the war in Yemen?” the MoD spokesperson asked.
Not long after, Miller received an email telling him that the MoD was not going to send him anything that day, but that he should “submit an FOI [Freedom of Information request] for anything that you require”.
When Miller enquired with his contact at the press office, he was told: “My understanding from the office is that we no longer deal with your publication.”
Declassified UK feels this blacklisting is the result of its earlier reporting on questionable Ministry of Defence activities, like training Saudi pilots who were involved with bombings of civilians in Yemen.
It’s not just the Council of Europe that’s noticed the UK government’s decision to refuse to respond to journalists it apparently doesn’t care for. The International Press Institute has sent a letter to MoD officials criticizing the agency for its actions.
It goes without saying that the exclusion of a media publication by a government ministry due to its investigative reporting would undermine press freedom and set a worrying precedent for other journalists whose job it is to report in the public interest on the British military.
Criticism should be no reason to discriminate against a media publication. In contrast, tough journalism by outlets such as Declassified UK on matters such as the UK’s foreign and military affairs, uncomfortable though it often may be for those in power, is crucial for a transparent and functioning democracy.
The letter also asks for “clarification” on the decision by the MoD’s press office. Presumably, no explanation will be provided. If anything, the MoD will just go back to handing out “no comments” to Declassified UK, rather than call any more attention to itself by cutting the independent journalists out of the minimal info loop.
But, for now, the MoD has aligned itself with Russia and Turkey. It may not be demanding the jailing/beating of critics (at least, not out loud), but it’s shown it’s unwilling to handle criticism like a free world government agency.