On Wednesday an international conference on press freedom was launched in London. Ironically on the same day Her Majesty’s government was defending its mass surveillance on communications, including those of journalists.
The Global Conference for Media Freedom, co-organized by the governments of the UK and Canada, was launched with much fanfare in the British capital, with some 1,000 representatives from around the world present. Some media professionals were barred from the grand event (namely this channel, RT and another Russian outlet Sputnik to be precise), but of course it didn’t stop hosts from declaring appreciation of the role that a free press plays in a free society.
Halfway across Europe in Strasbourg on the same day lawyers representing the British government were defending its right to spy on electronic communication of people before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
The case was brought before the court by 16 organizations and individuals defending civil and journalistic liberties, including the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. They argued that mass snooping, first revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, violated the right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression – the latter being fundamental for journalistic work.
“This may be the most important case with regard to the protection of journalistic communications and the protection of our sources to be heard in the past 20 years,” Rachel Oldroyd, managing editor of the Bureau said.
“As journalists we must be able to speak freely to our sources without fear of surveillance. The UK government’s system of mass collection and storage of all our communications is a severe threat to this cornerstone of our profession and a severe intrusion upon the freedom of the press.”
It is ironic that on the very day the Bureau is making this case against the British government’s surveillance regime in the highest court in Europe, the same government is hosting a global summit on press freedom.
In September 2018 the ECHR ruled that Britain didn’t have necessary safeguards in place to ensure that its mass surveillance complied with the European Convention on Human Rights after which the case was referred to the Grand Chamber. The hearing on Wednesday lasted almost three hours, but the date for delivering the judgement is yet to be announced.
Meanwhile the media freedom conference in London continued into its second day on Thursday with panels like ‘Taking a Stand: How We Defend Media Freedom’ and ‘Strengthening Media Freedom across the Commonwealth’ on the agenda. Do tell.