UK, Canada launch push to protect media freedom

Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, listens to a question during a press conference with the Bishop of Truro Philip Mounstephen about the Bishop's final report into the Foreign Office's support for Persecuted Christians around the world, in London, Monday, July 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, pool)

LONDON — Britain and Canada are leading a push to secure more protections for journalists, saying a free press "protects society from the abuse of power."

U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland convened a two-day conference starting Wednesday in London with politicians, officials, activists and journalists from more than 100 countries — though two Russian news outlets have been banned.

The British government said Sputnik and RT are barred because of "their active role in spreading disinformation."

Russian state-owned RT was censured last year by Britain's broadcast regulator for breaking U.K. impartiality rules in its coverage of the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy in England.

RT, formerly known as Russia Today, said "it takes a particular brand of hypocrisy to advocate for freedom of press while banning inconvenient voices and slandering alternative media."

The Foreign Office said Hunt would tell the conference that "media freedom is not a Western but a universal value."

He planned to say that repression of the press and corruption go hand in hand, and "at its best, a free media both protects society from the abuse of power and helps to release the full potential of a country."

Organizers have not released a list of participants, but say delegations are expected from nations with dire records on press freedom such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, the British government's special envoy on media freedom, is attending and plans to set up a panel of experts to advise governments on strengthening legal protection for journalists.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 54 media workers were killed worldwide in 2018.

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