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Peter Millett

Ambassador to Libya, Tripoli

Part of UK in Jordan World Press Freedom Day

13th February 2012

The Responsibility of the Press

The backbone of any democracy is an independent, professional and responsible media. Their role is to inform, criticise and stimulate debate. So how can the media be encouraged to step up to this vital role?

One initiative launched a few years ago by the UK’s Thomson Foundation – and funded by the British Embassy – is the Inquirer Award, given to excellence in investigative journalism in TV, print and photojournalism in Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

Prizes this year went to stories about pesticides in Palestine, sexual abuse in families and the plight of foreign workers in Beirut. The TV prize was won by a Jordanian working for Ro’ya TV for investigating conditions in Al Hashimiya district.

Mark Twain once said: “stupid people – who constitute the overwhelming majority of this and all other nations – believe and are convinced by what they get out of a newspaper, and there is where the harm lies.”

I wouldn’t entirely agree with Mr. Twain. The crucial point is credibility.  For the media to be credible it has to take responsibility for getting its facts right.  That means digging deep, talking to a range of people to get the different sides of the story, and checking their facts rigorously. It should not hesitate to root out and expose lies, hypocrisy and corruption, but has to be sure of its facts before doing so.

Credibility also means avoiding exaggeration or scare-mongering just to sell more newspapers. Stories based on rumours or sourced from someone with an axe to grind are what makes people joke that you can’t believe anything you read in the papers or see on TV.

Being responsible not only means telling the truth, but also abiding by the law and being honest in the way a journalist gathers information. If the press drifts into law-breaking, then it loses the respect of its readers and the nation.

This happened in the UK when journalists were accused of accessing the mobile phones and voicemails of people, including members of the royal family, well-known politicians, actors and sportsmen as well as the family of a murdered schoolgirl and the families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan. The disgust that followed led to the closure – after 168 years – of one of the biggest newspapers in the country. And just this week, journalists on the UK’s biggest circulation tabloid were arrested on suspicion of corruption.

Those in the public eye should not fear or be defensive about the press. If a politician dislikes criticism from the press, then he is definitely in the wrong job. As a British politician said many years ago: “for a politician to complain about the press is like a ship’s captain complaining about the sea.”

2 comments on “The Responsibility of the Press

  1. I totally agree: development means, at its core, achieiving equitable growth over an extended period; for equitable growth to occur there has to be accountability; for accountability to thrive there needs to be a healthy opposition that monitors governance and freedom of speech to enable discourse; freedom of the press is at the very base of this pyramid; and underlying all is democracy. There is no substitute to democracy in seeking development.

  2. As an environmentalist I was highly impressed with the winning TV investigative report about the politics of pollution in Al Hashemiyya. Such an exceptional quality and it deserves the high recognition by the award. It is interesting to know that the Minister of Municipal Affairs has decided to move out Mai Marji, the head of the Hashemiyya Municipality committee who has exposed the corruption network in the report. Most probably this measure is a retaliation for her honesty. This is how officials are not able to tolerate free press.

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About Peter Millett

Peter arrived in Tunis on 23 June 2015 to take up his post as Ambassador to Libya. Previously he was British Ambassador to Jordan from February 2011 to June 2015. He was High Commissioner to…

Peter arrived in Tunis on 23 June 2015 to take up his post as
Ambassador to Libya.
Previously he was British Ambassador to Jordan from February 2011 to June 2015.
He was High Commissioner to Cyprus from 2005 – 2010.
He was Director of Security in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
from 2002-2005, dealing with all aspects of security for British
diplomatic missions overseas.
From 1997-2001 he served as Deputy Head of Mission in Athens.
From 1993-96 Mr Millett was Head of Personnel Policy in the FCO.
From 1989-93 he held the post of First Secretary (Energy) in the UK
Representative Office to the European Union in Brussels, representing
the UK on all energy and nuclear issues.
From 1981-1985 he served as Second Secretary (Political) in Doha.
Peter was born in 1955 in London.  He is married to June Millett and
has three daughters, born in 1984, 1987 and 1991.  
His interests include his family, tennis and travel.