Editors Unite To Defend Free Press

The editors of the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian have written a joint piece in defence of press freedom and the important role of the press in upholding democracy by scrutinising authority and holding the powerful to account.

The article by Chris Evans and Katharine Viner was written in the week of the one year anniversary of the death MP Jo Cox. At the weekend, a celebration of community called the The Great Together will be launched in her memory, supported by the newspapers.  

The article says: “One year ago, an act of terrible violence robbed the nation of a passionate and principled woman. MP Jo Cox represented some of the best aspects of our political tradition, and her proclamation in her maiden speech to parliament – that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us – has profoundly touched many since her death.

“Jo’s maiden speech went on to characterise a Yorkshire spirit of proud independence and nonconformity – and to back that up by raising some difficult issues for government. As editors, Jo’s desire to ask tough questions of those in power resonates strongly with us.

“The Guardian and Telegraph usually sit on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but we share important beliefs about the role of the press. At its best, the British media is part of a great tradition – a fourth estate that holds to account the government and its officers, parliament, and the rich and powerful in our society.

“Politicians who abuse their expenses can expect the full scrutiny of the press, as in the Telegraph’s exclusive investigation in 2009. Financiers who abuse tax regulations can find themselves under the spotlight in investigations such as the Guardian’s Panama Papers series. Corruption and misbehaviour in sport will be exposed by reporting such as the Telegraph’s Sam Allardyce scoop. And we will always shine a light on corporate wrongdoing – as the Guardian has done on callous employment or tax practices with companies such as Sports Direct.

“During recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester, our reporters, along with colleagues from across the British media, have run towards danger in order to bring the public crucial news and reporting. All of this work reminds our readers why a thriving British press is so vital to our national conversation.

“But there’s no question that the powerful can feel threatened by robust reporting, too, and as editors we are extremely concerned by steps by some governments around the world to restrict press freedom, and in some cases to threaten or endanger reporters. Reporters are increasingly subject to restrictive laws and physical violence in countries such as Russia, Turkey and Ukraine – and even the US, where last month a Guardian reporter was physically attacked by the Republican Congressional candidate for Montana. And along with other journalists, Telegraph and Guardian staff have been summarily locked out of press briefings by supposedly democratic governments.

“As leaders across the globe seek to restrict the information shared with the media, the UK sometimes fails to speak up for democracy. We have seen attempts by successive governments to undermine whistleblowing, and the ability of newspapers to protect their confidential sources and information. There are deeply concerning moves vastly to increase the scope of the Official Secrets Act against journalists. All supporters of a robust democracy must speak out against these encroachments.

“The year since Jo Cox’s death has seen rapid political change around the world: unexpected election results, a rise in digital interference in democratic elections by foreign powers, and a spate of appalling terrorist attacks.

“Worrying new trends are beginning to impact on the public consciousness – fake news, algorithm biases, echo chambers. “Filter bubble” effects can easily arise as the increasingly targeted experiences we get from Facebook and Google only serve us news and views with which we will agree. These bubbles can lead us all to narrow our world views, rather than seeking out news and opinion which engages us, widens our viewpoints, and exposes us to new ideas. Against this backdrop, it has never been more important for the press to provide balanced, professional, but, above all, tough scrutiny of political leaders of every stripe.

“As the Great Get Together is launched this coming weekend in memory of Jo Cox’s life and work, we two editors have no hesitation in uniting, if for one day only, to share the fine sentiment of George Orwell, that: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”