This blog post was published under the 2015 to 2024 Conservative government

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Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of UK in Austria

23rd July 2019 Vienna, Austria

Media freedom

A campaigning journalist in Mexico receives a call before dawn about an incident at a night club.  He quickly goes there.  As he arrives, he is shot dead – one of 99 journalists killed worldwide in 2018.

This vivid example was given by the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, at a conference on media freedom in London on 10 July.  I recommend his speech, which includes the famous 1887 quotation by Lord Acton “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

In fact, of the ten cleanest countries in the world, as ranked by Transparency International, seven are also in the top ten of the World Press Freedom Index. Meanwhile, of the ten most corrupt countries, four are in the bottom ten for media freedom.

The conference in London was co-hosted by Canada and was attended by Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland (who I know a bit as she was FT correspondent in Moscow when I was posted there in the 1990s) and leading human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, the special envoy on global media freedom.

It is tempting to think that in countries such as Austria or the UK, with their strong human rights record and vibrant media scene, no-one needs to worry about media freedom.  I disagree.  In any country, market forces may risk undermining the media and its freedoms.  So too can a tendency by some politicians not to like what people are writing about them.

Media freedom also makes democracy stronger, and – in the long run – governments more stable, as well as being freer, more legitimate and more accountable.  People sometimes say to me “authoritarian leader X is very popular” or “undemocratic country Y is very stable”.  I reply that it is easy to be popular if you have systematically ensured that most of the media of your country is under government control and praises you to the skies.  History tends to show that in authoritarian countries which do not allow the valve of a free media or a genuine democracy, pressures may build up which eventually become destructive.

It is important that everyone joins in the fight for media freedom – both at home and in other countries where freedoms are under threat.  I commend the material at the links.

About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.