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‘You are the voice of our citizens,’ Secretary-General tells journalists at conference

11 April 2016

Photo caption: Gordon Campbell, Canada’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom; Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC, Commonwealth Secretary-General; and Rita Payne, President of the Commonwealth Journalists Association

Opening a conference of journalists from around the Commonwealth, Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC said that free and fair reporting is essential to good governance.  “Vibrant and responsible media are vital to advancing our Commonwealth goals of democracy, development, rule of law and respect for diversity,” stated the Secretary-General. 

“Journalists have a special power of holding governments to account in between elections, and putting public figures – both people and numbers – under the microscope so we can understand better how our countries work – or don’t.”

In her opening address to the Commonwealth Journalists Association’s triennial conference in London, Patricia Scotland QC went on to pay tribute to journalists who put their lives at risk to publish stories, and too often pay the ultimate price for their work.  According to the International Federation of Journalists, 24 reporters have been killed so far in 2016. “The Commonwealth stands in solidarity with their cause,” she said.

The Commonwealth can support responsible journalism in countries that repress freedom of expression by working together and sharing best practice, the Secretary-General stated. “By developing strong intra-Commonwealth relationships in the media, at both corporate and professional level, we can support journalists across the Commonwealth to report on stories from areas where information may be hard to access,” she said.

The Commonwealth Journalists’ Association is meeting in London from 11-13 April.  The theme of their conference is The Future of Journalism in the Digital Age.

Canada’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Gordon Campbell, also speaking at the conference, said: “We recognize that you are on the front line, examining the public life that we have.” The High Commissioner went on to say that reporters must strive to create a climate of openness and transparency in countries where democracy is not strong. 

The principles enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter should guide the way, he said, although acting on them is not always easy.  “It’s one thing to think about these values, another to say them, and still another to act on them.”  Twenty-five of the Commonwealth’s 53 countries have a press that is fully free, said Mr Campbell, quoting figures from Freedom House.

Journalists in the audience asked the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner a range of questions after they had spoken, and received comments on corruption, trade and investment, and the Commonwealth’s work in observing elections, among other issues. 

Read the Secretary-General's opening remarks in full

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