Lord Hall: Media Repression Has Become ‘New Norm’

Repression of the media has become a “new norm” across the globe as journalists face increasing risk of intimidation and persecution by corrupt regimes and institutions who want to quash legitimate reporting, the director general of the BBC has said.

Delivering the inaugural Satchwell Lecture on Monday, Tony Hall addressed a wide range of issues affecting the media today including the global threat to freedom of expression, the weaponization of the term fake news, and the evolution of privacy laws.     

Lord Hall said: “The fake news tag has given street cred to mass disbelief. That doesn’t just threaten journalism everywhere. It threatens people everywhere. For democratic government to be legitimate it needs not just the consent of the people, but their informed consent. We cannot allow the fake to drive out the fair…

“And now the term fake news is used worldwide. It’s the weapon of choice for repressive regimes everywhere – used by the Kremlin to dismiss the Salisbury Novichok attacks, and by powerful lobbies who counter objective facts with the assertion that they’re all made up.

 “I believe the public – and our democracy – are best served by diverse – and independent – journalism. An electorate that cannot rely on a range of free media is an electorate effectively disenfranchised.

“So we all have a duty to instill public confidence in professional journalism. We must hold our collective nerve and keep doing what’s right. We must all – national and local, broadcasters and newspapers – re-commit ourselves to discovering and telling the truth as far as we can.”

Lord Hall said that journalists across the globe faced a multitude of threats.  In Turkey, over 150 journalists languish in jail and more than 9,000 have lost their jobs, Lord Hall said, and two Reuters correspondents in Myanmar have been imprisoned for investigating the massacre of Rohingya people.

Lord Hall said: “And, of course, the consequences for some journalists can be even worse. We now have war correspondents, the bravest of the brave, being deliberately targeted by regular armies, never mind those who oppose them. That’s what seems to have happened to Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times – targeted for being a journalist who told uncomfortably truths about the reality of war. The fearless investigation of corruption has been stifled in Slovakia.

“In Afghanistan earlier this year our own Ahmad Shah, just 29 years old, was shot dead for being a BBC journalist. And just in the last week we’ve had the death of Jamal Khashoggi – a Saudi journalist who worked for the Washington post – and then overnight Viktoria Marinova – an investigative journalist from Bulgaria – was killed. Viktoria’s the third European journalist to be killed in the past year.”

Touching on the News Media Assocation /BBC Local News Partrnership, Lord Hall described the initiative as “a partnership we can all be proud of.”

He added: “And we have put 126 reporters back into town halls the length and breadth of the country. They’ve filed 30,000 stories so far. It’s still early days – and we need to review together our successes and failures. But it’s a partnership we can all be proud of. It’s already having an impact on local democracy.

“In truth, I don’t see us being in opposition to one another – far from it. And local audiences – and local democracy – have everything to gain from a healthy BBC alongside a viable and energetic press. So I await the findings of Dame Frances Cairncross’ review with great interest, and we will do what we can to support a strong local media landscape.”