Britain, Canada Create Fund to Promote Global Free Press

Britain and Canada established a fund Wednesday to train and provide legal support for journalists in some of the world’s hot spots.  

The two nations hope other countries will also contribute to the Global Media Defense Fund, which will be administered by UNESCO.

Britain is donating about $3.8 million, and Canada kicked in about $765,000. 

Britain also announced it was launching a separate, $18.8 million program to combat what many see as a growing crisis for independent media worldwide. 

Two journalists relax in front of plaques memorializing journalists killed since 2016. The display was part of the Global Conference for Media Freedom.

The new fund was announced in a keynote address by British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt at the Global Conference for Media Freedom in London. The conference, which continues Thursday, is co-hosted by Canada and Britain.

In his speech, Hunt told the story of reporter Francisco Romero Diaz, who was killed in May  in southern Mexico, to illustrate the dangers faced by a growing number of journalists each year. Last year, Hunt said, nearly 100 journalists were killed — more than twice the annual toll just a decade ago.

Amal Clooney, a lawyer and activist who defended two Reuters reporters recently freed from jail in Myanmar, noted that Washington-based Freedom House, which publishes an annual report on world press freedom, recorded its 13th consecutive year of decline in its global freedom index.

“This decline in media freedom doesn’t only mean that journalists have fewer rights,” she said. “It means we all have.”

Money not enough

The cash pledged Wednesday is earmarked for training journalists, paying legal expenses and creating other support systems.  But some of the reporters and editors covering the conference are calling for more direct and decisive action by world leaders to protect journalists and punish those who kill them.

Clooney and Hunt both noted that more often than not, the killers of journalists aren’t punished for their crimes. That’s especially true when the perpetrators are government officials. And leaders of other nations often appear disinclined to try to hold their counterparts accountable.

“When Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was tortured to death and dismembered by Saudi Arabian officials in Istanbul, the world responded with little more than a collective shrug,” Clooney said.

FILE – Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland at the State Department​ in Washington, Feb. 8, 2017.

During a question-and-answer period, a Canadian reporter asked Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, why Canada and other Group of 20 countries didn’t strip Saudi Arabia of its hosting privileges for next year’s conference over the Khashoggi killing.   

Freeland explained that Canada expressed its concern for the “atrocious murder” and sanctioned 17 Saudis believed to be connected to the killing. But the G-20, as an economic organization, isn’t the appropriate venue for a values dispute.

“We do need to have places where we attend meetings and talk, even with those countries that are acting in ways that are 100% opposed to our values,” she said.

Agnes Callamard, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions who investigated Khashoggi’s slaying, said during an afternoon session that it’s time for countries to stand up to leaders who target journalists and commit other crimes.

“We have to stop the bullies,” she said. “There are bullies around the world using their influence. But they are doing so because we are silent. I’m past calling for hope. We need courage.”

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