At the July 10/11 Jeremy Hunt’s Grim Joke – ‘Global Media Freedom’ Conference in London
Report by Maxine Walker
The Julian Assange Defence Committee and INMINDS supporters gathered in protest outside the laughably titled Global Media Freedom Conference today in London. A grim joke indeed as this Foreign Office-organised Conference was held just 7 miles from where Julian Assange is imprisoned and isolated in Belmarsh high-security prison.
How can a government that cages and tortures journalists host a conference on Media Freedom?
— Inminds Human Rights Group (@InmindsCom) July 11, 2019
1000 journalists are attending the Conference. We made sure that they could not ignore Julian Assange and our picket of around 30 people attracted some attention from delegates. It was highly visible with many banners and placards. Our message? ‘Media Freedom? What about Julian Assange’? Some of us wore gags.
The Conference is hosted by the intellectual and moral vacuum that is Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. He has already made clear his approval of Assange’s extradition. He has said: “Julian Assange is no hero. He has hidden from the truth for years and years”. No Mr Hunt, you have this upside down.
He has exposed the truth about the Western war machine – a truth you wish to hide. Hence his persecution and torture by the UK and USA. The Wikileaks release of the Collateral Murder video showed civilians being murdered by US forces in Iraq. Amongst those murdered were two Reuter’s journalists.
Julian Assange was mentioned inside the Conference – it would have looked excessively odd to not at least mention him. Speaker, Amal Clooney said: ‘The indictment against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has alarmed journalists at newspapers around the world’…. for criminalising ‘common practices in journalism that have long served the public interest.’
Canada & UK today completed #DefendMediaFreedom conference. This is collective mural of participants @ @artlordsworld, commissioned by @foreignoffice. Great people put Julian to center of it! pic.twitter.com/NhQtVMfQHy
— Pamela Anderson (@pamelaanderson) July 11, 2019
At this ‘Global Media Freedom’ event, the Foreign Office banned Russia Today and Sputnik from attending, accusing them of ‘disinformation’. As Julian Assange’s mother commented: ‘Maybe RT was too zealous in practising “media freedom” by reporting the FACTS of the political persecution of my son journalist Julian Assange.’
— RT UK (@RTUKnews) July 11, 2019
One of Hunt’s major roles as Foreign Secretary has been to sell arms to Saudi Arabia for use in its war in Yemen which has killed tens of thousands of people and created a humanitarian disaster. The UK could not be closer to the Saudi despots.
This despite UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard’s report on the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi in which she cites “credible evidence” of the involvement of high-level Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He is set to greet world leaders in Saudi Arabia at the next G20 summit. Just business as usual.
Pro-Assange activists denounce government "hypocrisy" outside of media freedom conference in London. They specifically call out Foreign Secretary and current Conservative leadership candidate Hunt for supporting Assange’s extradition to the US 🤷♀️ #FreeJulianAssange #Assange pic.twitter.com/YSquxxRnpl
— Sputnik Insight (@Sputnik_Insight) July 10, 2019
For journalists to think that media freedom is advanced by such an event is a grave mistake. It is to succumb to the clammy embrace of the very forces that are set on suppressing dissident voices in the press and elsewhere. Had they looked at the pavement outside their jamboree they would have seen the people who actually stand for Julian Assange and for genuine media freedom.
With many thanks to Ezra for doing the call out and organising the event and to Wendy for the photographs and the handmade gags and posters.
Update 23/03/2022 Read below the latest revelations by Declassified UK:
JULIAN ASSANGE POSED PR PROBLEM FOR UK GOVERNMENT’S MEDIA CAMPAIGN
UK officials were worried about public reaction to their hosting a media freedom event a few miles from Belmarsh prison, where Assange is incarcerated. The Foreign Office monitored activity online, developed ‘lines to take’ and warned ‘we should be ready’, emails show.
The UK’s treatment of Julian Assange posed a public relations problem for the Foreign Office’s media freedom campaign, files seen by Declassified UK show.
The conference was held just months after WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange was dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
He was transferred to Belmarsh prison, “the closest comparison in the United Kingdom to Guantánamo”, as a UK parliamentary report has described it.
Addressing the media conference, then foreign secretary Jeremy Huntdeclared: “If we act together, we can shine a spotlight on abuses and impose a diplomatic price on those who would harm journalists or lock them up for doing their jobs”.
‘We should be ready’
The hosting of a media freedom event within miles of Belmarsh prison in southeast London was seen as a public relations problem. Internal Foreign Office emails show UK officials monitored online behaviour accordingly.
After Hunt announced plans for the conference in February 2019, one official complained about “a few individual crazy responses to the FS’ [Foreign Secretary’s] tweet”.
By June, officials were requesting “Lines to Take on how best to respond to questions we expect to be raised on this occasion about the UK handling of the case of Julian Assange”.
In particular, “Icelandic criticism of UK handling of [the] Assange case” was seen to be “affecting messaging on media freedom”.
This email was likely related to former Icelandic Interior Minister Ögmundur Jónasson, who had asserted in June that the Assange case put “the British justice system…on trial”.
“Our current approach is right and we shouldn’t engage”.
On 8 July, two days before the conference began, an unnamed official wrote about “a ramp up in activity by Assange campaigners”.
One cause for concern was Assange’s mother Christine, who had “joined calls for a tweetstorm during the conference”, as well as “accounts [which] are small scale or are run by active trolls and provocateurs”.
The official outlined rules for engagement, noting “our current approach is right and we shouldn’t engage…However, we should be ready. I’m keen that we agree ahead of time how and when our approach would evolve”.
In an email with the subject line “Media Freedom Conference – online register of interest form”, one official even questioned: “what if someone like Assange applied to attend?”
The Foreign Office emails discussing Assange remain heavily redacted for reasons of “national security”.
‘No communications strategy can make this go away’
According to a recent academic study, Julian Assange “was by far the most frequently discussed individual on Twitter” with regards to the Media Freedom Coalition.
“Numerous tweets highlighted the apparent irony that the UK was establishing and leading an international initiative on media freedom, while simultaneously undermining free media…in their handling of Assange”, the researchers found.
Since 2019, the UK has nonetheless continued to use the Global Conference for Media Freedom as a vehicle through which to claim it supports press freedom.
Rebecca Vincent, the Director of International Campaigns for Reporters Without Borders (RSF), commented:
“It is disappointing that rather than looking to address the very serious substantive concerns about the case of Julian Assange, the UK Foreign Office seems to have treated the matter as only a public relations inconvenience as it prepared to host the Global Media Freedom Conference and launch the Media Freedom Coalition.
“But the truth is that no communications strategy can make this go away. As long as Assange remains detained in the UK and as long as the US continues to seek his extradition and prosecution for publishing information in the public interest, this case will serve as a thorn in the sides of both governments and the Media Freedom Coalition itself.”
She added: “They should instead lead by example by dropping the charges, releasing Assange, and putting an end to his persecution once and for all”.
Read here an independent assessment of the MFC https://fpc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Reset-Required-Evaluation-Report-2022.pdf