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UK statement to the OSCE Conference on Journalists' Safety, Media Freedom and Pluralism in Times of Conflict

Magna Carta as the first step towards individual rights and freedoms and the foundation of democracy.

Poster fro OSCE freedom of media conference, June 2015
Image courtesy of OSCE

Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Vienna, Austria

Monday, 15 June 2015

Today,15 June, marks exactly 800 years since the sealing of Magna Carta; an event that marked the first step on the UK’s journey towards parliamentary democracy and respect for individual rights, a foundation of our values and for many of the rights and freedoms that our citizens enjoy today.

As we reflect on and celebrate that journey, we think of the foundations on which our democracy has been built including well run institutions, responsible and accountable government, the rule of law, equal rights for all and a free press.

Freedom of expression, including the ability of the media to operate free from intimidation, are essential elements of any democracy, and provide the basis for an active civil society.

The protection of journalists, whether in conflict or in peace, is an essential principle of any functioning society. The freedom of journalists to report unhindered and unharmed is a vital tool to help hold authority to account and a building block of open societies and effective democracies. And in an increasingly digital world, we need to ensure that protections are also applied to social media activists, citizen journalists and online bloggers. We are firmly committed to the principle that the rights which exist offline also apply online.

Too often during conflicts around the world we have seen how the media can be used to spread disinformation and propaganda fuelling ungrounded fears, political tensions and the risk of dangerous miscalculation by parties to a conflict. We have seen this most recently during the crisis in Ukraine, where some elements of the Russian media have been used to spread lies, obfuscate and otherwise misinform the Russian people about what is really happening in Ukraine. Preventing the development of a shared understanding of the causes of conflict undermines the potential for developing shared solutions. As the European Union statement asserted; the most effective way to counter unhelpful propaganda is to promote free expression and free media. If we provide the conditions where freedom of expression can flourish, the truth will more often than not be victorious. Facts have a habit of cutting through propaganda, misinformation and media distortion.

The OSCE’s institutions also have an important role to play. Their objective, non-political and fact-based analysis is a real strength of the OSCE. We have given them mandates to monitor and support us in the implementation of our common commitments without fear nor favour. The UK unequivocally supports the institutions in fulfilling this important task.

Published 15 June 2015