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Cry freedom: long road to open journalism in the Commonwealth

The Commonwealth and Challenges to Media Freedom conference will explore press freedom and journalistic independence, bringing together journalists, academics, lawyers.

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Hostility to press freedom and journalistic independence is growing across the Commonwealth and journalists face increasing obstruction and even physical danger. So how is this 52-nation group responding to these new threats which challenge democracy and human rights as much as freedom of speech?

These issues will be examined at The Commonwealth and Challenges to Media Freedom conference at Senate House (4–5 April), which brings together leading journalists, academics, lawyers, magistrates, judges, policymakers and human rights practitioners. It is organised by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, as the inaugural event of the School’s Centre of Commonwealth and Media Freedom.

‘Freedom of speech is an integral part of a functioning democracy, and in these days of big shifts, there is even more of a need for investigative journalists to hold the powerful to account’, explains Dr Sue Onslow, conference convenor and deputy director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.

‘But across the Commonwealth there are multiple pressures on media freedoms: from shifting technology delivery, governments and their allies, hostile groups, criminal networks, as well as poor legal protection and from media professionals themselves. This is a particularly timely meeting, to discuss current common challenges and to contribute to debates within the Commonwealth on ways forward.’

Among confirmed speakers are Baroness Patricia Scotland, the first British citizen to be elected secretary-general of the Commonwealth in its 66-year history, and leading media lawyer Mark Stephens. They will be joined by representatives from some 13 Commonwealth countries and top UK publications such as The Sunday Times and The Telegraph to address government interference and restrictions in countries such as Malaysia, South Africa, Botswana, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda.

Other debate topics focus on the challenges journalists, bloggers and social media users face in Kashmir, Pakistan and Bangladesh, a post-Levenson UK and regional threats and personal violence in India.

The Commonwealth and Challenges to Media Freedom conference is sponsored by the School of Advanced Study, Asian Affairs, The Commonwealth Press Union Media Trust and The Round Table/the Commonwealth journal of international affairs.