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Coronavirus spread shows the hazard of suppressing the truth

30 March 2020

The Foreign Affairs Committee publishes the Government's Response to its report on "Media freedom is under attack": the FCO's defence of an endangered liberty.

Journalists around the world face immense danger and death just simply for bringing us the truth. In the Committee's report, media workers and their supporters described the physical threats, harassment, intimidation and financial uncertainty that endanger a profession on which we all depend for our most fundamental freedoms.

Defending media freedom around the world was the FCO's priority campaign for 2019. Evaluating its success so far, the Committee's report praised the progress already achieved, but also highlighted deficiencies. In its response, the FCO has shown the further steps it has taken to protect journalists and to enlist other countries in that fight.  Nevertheless, much remains to be done, and there are key areas where the FCO can and must go further.

The hazards of not doing so are all too clear, with the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) showing the dangers that arise when the truth is suppressed.

Chair's comments

Chair of Committee, Tom Tugendhat MP, commented:

"Democracy and, as we're learning, public health depend on open honest reporting. Without the ability to question and report, society is left blind to the abuses of its leaders or the threats that confront it. During the current, unprecedented coronavirus outbreak, our health depends not just on the openness of our own society but the honesty of others. Media freedom anywhere affects our health everywhere. 

China's initial reaction when the outbreak first emerged was to suppress the truth, not the virus. The doctor who first had the courage to report it was taken to a police station and forced to sign a statement saying that he had lied. The violation of the freedoms of a doctor in a distant Chinese city have closed down the global economy and now rumours spread by Chinese diplomats are hampering the global response. We need our news media more than ever. A free media is an essential part of the cure.

The FCO has worked hard to protect journalists, and to make the fight to do so truly global. It has established new institutions, signed-up new countries, and given serious thought and funding to solve complex issues. We now need to see the UK lead by example, including with countries like Turkey, who detain hundreds of journalists, and Saudi Arabia, which murdered the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The FCO promises us that it will soon begin to impose sanctions on those who abuse journalists, and the Foreign Secretary has told us that he is considering our suggestion for visas to protect persecuted journalists. Both must happen - now. 

Fake news, like coronavirus, spreads easily. Let's protect our society by confronting both - a free media will be a vital part of that fight."

Further information

Image: Pixabay