Campaigners argue that ‘national security’ is often used as a pretext to trample on the freedom of press.
On Saturday, a ‘Reporters Without Borders’ report published in The Independent ranked the U.K. 33rd for press freedom, behind South Africa and Latvia. It is one of the worst rankings for a European country with activists arguing that ‘national security’ is often used as a pretext to trample on the freedom of press.
There have been long running concerns about the concentration of media ownership in Britain. A 2015 report claimed that the country’s media is owned by just a few tycoons, threatening media plurality. Two of Britain’s most widely read newspapers, The Sun and the Times, along with the Press Association agency and SKY News broadcast, are owned by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp. The U.K.’s next most widely circulated papers such as The Daily Mail are owned by billionaire Jonathan Harmsworth, 4th Viscount Rothermere, and The Telegraph by billionaire twins, David and Frederick Barclay.
However, Rebecca Vincent, Reporters Without Borders U.K. director, argues that their biggest worry is the British government’s use of ‘national security’ to crackdown on critical reporting. “Too often steps taken in the name of national security trample press freedom," she says.
One area that ‘national security’ issues may hinder reporting on, is over the U.K.’s involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. Fears have grown since it was revealed that London is a hub for Saudi government PR spending.
A report from the Pew Research Center found that less than a third of U.K. citizens ‘trust’ their national media, with just 5% claiming to trust it ‘a lot’. This number is compared to the Netherlands where 67% trust their national titles, with 18% claiming to do so ‘a lot’.
There are also concerns about press freedom in other western countries. The Canadian government recently banned teleSUR English from reporting on the so called ‘Lima Group’ meeting held in Ottawa in early Feburary 2019. The Russian embassy in Canada has also complained that Russian journalists are routinely presented with difficulties in carrying out their professional role.