Defending press freedom should be our response to Jo Cox's murder
Jo Cox - © jcf
15 June 2017
A fortnight ago Ukrainian reporter Stanyslav Aseev stopped returning phone calls.
He was due to file material to his regular outlets Radio Svoboda, Dzerkalo Tyzhnya, Ukrainian Week and Radio Free Europe. No copy was received. Then his apartment was stormed and his laptop stolen. He has not been seen since.
Assyeev (who works under the name Stanislav Vasin) has been reporting on life in the Donbass region of Ukraine. Historically it is part of Ukraine, but since 2014 an insurgent group has styled the area the Donetsk People’s Republic – a configuration that is not recognised by any members of the United Nations.
Assyeev’s friends assume that he has been taken by the insurgents' self-styled "ministry of state security". They fear for his life.
The brave reporter joins some 250 journalists around the world who have been detained as a result of their work. I hope that at least a few of them are in a position to take heart as I do from the joint article Jo Cox asked the tough questions – so should we penned by Chris Evans and Katherine Viner, respectively the editor and editor in chief of the Daily Telegraph and The Guardian,
A year after the MP’s death, the Guardian and the Telegraph came together to support the Great Get Together.
Their contribution was part of a huge programme of events organised to commemorate the murder of Jo Cox, the MP for Batley and Spen, in West Yorkshire.
That the two editors, working for newspapers on opposite sides of the political spectrum, have used the opportunity to commit themselves to working for press freedom, wherever it is threatened, is welcome news to all of who work closely with our colleagues and sister unions around the world, fighting against daily threats, intimidation, threats and killings.
The record of editors and newspapers owners defending press freedom is not without blemish. In the spirt of coming together that is at the heart of the Jo Cox memorial, however, better to take heart from this excellent joint initiative. Such senior practitioners mounting the barricades should be a call to arms for us all.
The threats to our work form a continuum – from restrictions on what we can report because of bogus privacy laws and threats to our contacts from the Investigatory Powers Act, to the possibility that shocking new penalties might be written in to the Official Secrets Act. Summary detention and murder might thankfully be less familiar on our shores, but they are products of the same impulse – the powerful trying to frustrate or silence those who shine a light on their activities.
To stand a chance at defending our rights, all journalists must harness our instinct to oppose such obstacles wherever they occur. Take a look, for example, at the European Federation of Journalists database of journalists jailed in Turkey. There are 157 at the last count, several of whom has spent more than five years behind bars.
The site includes a facility to send postcards to those in jail. A few minutes dashing off cordial greetings could do a great deal to lift a colleagues’ spirits and show some solidarity in action (use Google translate, if you don’t have Turkish). It is also an uplifting start to rededicating yourself to standing up for what we do, wherever it is threatened.
Spare a thought too for the journalists who pay the ultimate price. It is always salutary to spend a few minutes on the site maintained by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) which tracks the number of media workers who die in the line of duty each year. You can donate to the IFJ safety fund.
We should take up the cudgels individually as well as a trade union - we should write to our elected representatives, we should press the media itself to champion press freedom and when necessary we should be willing to down tools and take to the streets.
That is what 6,000 British broadcast journalists did in 1985 when BBC governors nearly bowed to government pressure not to screen a challenging documentary about life in Northern Ireland. Their example shows that when journalists stand together we can’t be dismissed and that the most determined and effective defenders of press freedom have always been journalists ourselves.
Jo Cox embodied much that is exemplary, including the best in civic activism and fearless international campaigning. We might never make sense of her needless death. To take inspiration from her, however, is to make her eternal.
What better way to do that than to join Chris Evans and Katherine Viner and rededicate ourselves to the battle for press freedom?
Tim Dawson, NUJ president