Freeland, Hunt to announce Canadian-British press freedom summit this summer

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Canada and Britain will
co−host an international summit in London this summer on the growing threats to
freedom of the press, and to promote better protection of journalists, The
Canadian Press has learned.

Sources say Foreign Affairs
Minister Chrystia Freeland — a journalist before she entered
politics — and her British counterpart Jeremy Hunt have been working on
the idea for months.

Canadian officials spoke on the
condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the
conference before it was formally announced.

Sources say the talks between
Freeland and Hunt have progressed to the point where they have now set a date
for a two−day gathering starting July 10, which will include members of
governments, civil society and journalists.

They say Freeland has been
influenced by two high−profile cases: the imprisonment of two Reuters reporters
who were sentenced to seven−year terms in Myanmar for violating the country’s
Official Secrets Act and the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post
columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul last fall.

U.S. President Donald Trump has
repeatedly called the news media “the enemy of the people,” but
sources denied suggestions that his anti−media rhetoric was also a factor.

“It’s a theme Minister
Freeland has been thinking a lot about in general, particularly because of the
cases of the two journalists in Myanmar and the Khashoggi case,” said one

“But also in general, the
current climate is affecting journalist’s ability to do their work
freely.” Freeland and Hunt “have this shared concern and that was the
genesis of all of this.”

Freeland, who used to work at
Reuters, condemned the seven−year sentences meted out to Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe
Oo, who were reporting on the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s
Rakhine State. A military crackdown drove an estimated 900,000 Rohingya out of
Myanmar and into neighbouring Bangladesh.

The two journalists were
reporting on a massacre of the Rohingya people by the Myanmar military in 2017
and say they were framed by police.

“This verdict gravely
undermines the rule of law and freedom of the press in Myanmar, and betrays the
decades−long struggle by the Myanmar people for democracy,” Freeland said
in a written statement in September.

Britain and the United States
also condemned the verdict, along with numerous international human rights

Freeland has called Khashoggi’s
killing “abhorrent and represents an unconscionable attack on the freedom
of expression and freedom of the press.” Canada also imposed sanctions on
17 Saudis linked to killing, freezing their assets and barring them from
entering the country.

She has repeatedly called for an
independent international investigation so Khashoggi’s killers can be brought
to justice.

Freeland and Prime Minister
Justin Trudeau have repeatedly defended a free press as a necessary part of a
thriving democracy. While they have not criticized Trump directly, their
steadfast defence of the media has come amid unprecedented attacks on press
freedom by the American president.

Trump has called the news media
“the enemy of the people” and derided it for selling “fake
news” to its readers. He has also called journalists “crazed

“The Fake News Media in our
Country is the real Opposition Party,” Trump said in one January Tweet.
“It is truly the Enemy of the People! We must bring honesty back to
journalism and reporting!”

In December, the rights group
Reporters Without Borders reported that the United States had, for the first
time, formally entered the ranks of the top five deadliest countries in the
world for journalists to work.

On June 28, four journalists and
a sales associate were killed by a gunman who opened fire in the offices of the
Maryland newspaper Capital Gazette in what was the deadliest attack on the
media in recent U.S. history.

In December, the annual report by
the Committee to Protect Journalists said the number of journalists killed
across the world in retaliation for their work nearly doubled in 2018.

It said that 34 journalist were
killed in retaliation for their work, while at least 53 were killed overall. In
2017, 18 journalists were killed in retaliation while 47 were counted overall.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian