At its annual conference in London in November of last year the Society raised the issue of journalists’ safety while carrying out their vital roles and heard from Jeremy Bliss the cousin of UK reporter Christopher Allen who was killed by government forces in Sudan.
Answering a question from Lord Black of Brentwood in the House of Lords, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth office, said the United Kingdom condemned violence against journalists in the strongest terms.
Lord Black, who is chairman of the Commonwealth Press Union and patron of the Rory Peck Trust, also raised the matter of justice for murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who died in a car bomb attack.
Lord Black added: “Over the last two years, 125 journalists worldwide have been murdered in pursuit of their work, often in direct retaliation for uncovering wrongdoing? Shockingly, virtually all these killings have gone unpunished, as democracies around the world fail to properly investigate them and bring perpetrators to justice—a failure which simply fuels further attacks.
“The brutal murders of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta and UK citizen Christopher Allen in South Sudan in 2017 highlighted the terrible human tragedy of such impunity. Does my noble friend agree that it is unacceptable that their families have not received justice? Is it not particularly intolerable that there has been no independent investigation into the vicious killing of Christopher Allen by government soldiers as he did his job bearing witness to conflict?”
Lord Ahmad said the number of journalists being killed was of deep concern to the government.
“In the instance of Malta, judicial proceedings are under way. Let me assure my noble friend that we are providing full support to the family and have made representations repeatedly to the Maltese Government,” he added.
“On the tragic killing of Christopher Allen, I am sure that all noble Lords join me in once again conveying our deepest sympathy to his family. We are working very closely with the United States and continue to press South Sudanese authorities on this case. Most recently, Her Majesty’s ambassador met the South Sudanese Defence Minister and raised the issue, and my colleague, the Minister for Africa, met the family directly.”
During the debate Baroness Northover said she expected more to be done to support Christopher Allen’s family.
“If the FCO is indeed to defend journalists, it needs to pursue this case more vigorously. Christopher was a dual US/UK national, but the FCO did not follow the correct procedures when his family requested help. I would like to know what formal investigation of that failing in the FCO has occurred, and whether the Minister will agree to meet the family to take the case forward.”
Christopher Allen, who held British and American nationality, was gunned down covering the civil war in South Sudan when he was just 26 while reporting on rebel forces fighting government forces. Images of his stripped body were subsequently posted on social media before being taken down after protests to the South Sudan government.
Speaking at the Society of Editors’ annual conference in November 2019, Christopher Allen’s cousin, film-maker Jeremy Bliss highlighted the family’s anguish at the lack of support in getting justice for the killing by South Sudan government troops in 2017.
The Society of Editors’ executive director said the debate in the House of Lords was a much-needed public airing of this important issue.
“The deliberate targeting and killing of journalists who are non-combatants is something that threatens us all: not just those risking their lives to bring vital coverage of the world’s war zones and trouble spots,” said Ian Murray.
“If the men of violence can silence the media then they can go about their work in the knowledge the world isn’t watching. For the sake of the families of those who have been killed and also the rest of us, justice must be done.”
A full transcript of the House of Lords debate can be found here.