Today, November 11th, is Poppy Day, as Armistice Day in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland is popularly known. Sunday in the UK is Remembrance Day which makes it a weekend of sombre reflection. The reference to poppies originates from the flowers that grew in Flanders fields where so many British soldiers and their allies died in the first of Europe’s great wars in the last century.
That those men marched off to defend Europe’s freedom with the English in particular singing “There’ll Always be an England, And England shall be free…” has turned to irony. As I stand at the cenotaph in Deal wearing my poppy I privately commiserate with those who gave their lives and consider that the words of the song should now read “… but England is not free…”
The latest disgusting arrest of three journalists in Hertfordshire for covering the ‘Just Stop Oil’ protests this week is, although widely condemned, merely a sign of the direction the UK is taking on the issue of press freedom.
The three journalists who produced their press card identifications were locked up. Documentarian Rich Felgate and photographer Tom Bowles were held for 13 hours. Bowles has said that at 11 pm his wife was woken by three officers who searched his house before he arrived home at 3.30am.
LBC reporter Charlotte Lynch was held first in handcuffs and then in a cell for five hours and has given a moving account of here experiences. It is the reaction of the forces police and crime commissioner David Lloyd that highlights the broader problem in a country that is way down the World Press Freedom Index.
On LBC after the arrests he stated: “Your editorial policy needs to reflect on whether or not we want to be part of the problem, which is how Just Stop Oil manage to get their message out there so very successfully”. In other words by reporting on the protests that have attracted hugely widespread public condemnation the media are somehow causing the problem.
As we pay our respects to the fallen we should bear in mind the warning from the organisation Justice. Referring to the forthcoming Public Order Bill that is meandering through that other widely condemned establishment the House of Commons in the words of Justice: The arrest of journalists “might become commonplace” should the forthcoming bill become law.
Justice went on to say: “These arrests foreshadow what might become commonplace if the Public Order Bill is passed. The Bill creates a swathe of new criminal offences that are so broad they have the potential to capture a vast range of ordinary peaceful behaviour, including journalists covering protests.”
It added: “These arrests demonstrate the risks that the new police powers could be used disproportionately, serving as a chilling effect on our fundamental rights to freedom of speech, expression and assembly”
I am reminded that licensing of the press was abolished in 1695 and also of a comment last year in the New York Times that: “Britain has a long tradition of a free, inquisitive press but, unlike the United States, Britain has no constitutional guarantee of press freedom”.
In April 2019 Amnesty International stated that according to the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index the UK ranked 33 – after rising seven places. Amnesty commented that the UK remained one of the worst ranked Western European Countries “largely due to a heavy handed approach towards the press, often in the name of national security”.
As I have stated several times in articles for EU Today the established media carries much of the blame for the situation journalists now find themselves in. Poorly constructed and biased reporting has undermined the status of newspapers, radio and television. This has devalued the media in terms of having the status of ‘Defenders of Democracy’. It is now a populist view among many that the UK is becoming “a police state”.
Those of us who had relatives killed in World War’s One and Two should reflect at this emotive time of remembrance on what they gave their lives for.
Written on the eve of Remembrance Day at the Corner Cafe, Deal, Kent.
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