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Britain’s ‘Media Freedom’ is Smokescreen to Hide the Persecution of Journalists Who Expose War Crimes


‘Champions of Media Freedom’: Celebrity lawyer Amal Clooney and Jeremy Hunt.

Nina Cross
21st Century Wire

As Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, fights on from inside high-security Belmarsh prison, we see a stream of ‘Media Freedom’ campaign tweets from the Foreign Office.  Jeremy Hunt’s campaign is apparently running parallel to Assange’s arrest and battle against extradition to the US by way of Sweden. But Hunt’s campaign cannot erase or hide the fact the British government is persecuting a journalist who has dared to empower people throughout the world with knowledge of their leaders’ war crimes. Nor can its shiny press releases blind us to its increasingly hostile and repressive position towards  journalists and truth-tellers.

On the day Wikileaks tweeted the first warning that Assange could have his asylum imminently withdrawn, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that the government’s new Media Freedom campaign which would be fronted by celebrity human rights lawyer Amal Clooney.  It was a media circus.  It was noticeable that despite Clooney’s previous role in Assange’s legal counsel, any connections between the two were effectively left out of mainstream media reports, so that without prior knowledge or research nobody would have known this was the case.

As Hunt’s media campaign got going, so did Clooney’s “Trial Watch,” part of her Clooney Foundation for Justice project, with a particular focus on journalists.  In its promotional video a narrator points out some telltale signs of an unfair court:

“Was the court’s presiding official impartial?

Are the public allowed to enter the courtroom?”

After Assange was betrayed by Ecuadorian president Lenin Moreno and arrested by UK police on 11th April, he was found guilty at Westminster Magistrate’s Court of skipping a police bail in 2012 when he sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy, fearing extradition to the US via Sweden.   This is how ex-ambassador Craig Murray described the judge’s treatment of Assange that day:

“District Judge Michael Snow is a disgrace to the bench who deserves to be infamous well beyond his death. He displayed the most plain and open prejudice against Assange in the 15 minutes it took for him to hear the case and declare Assange guilty last week, in a fashion which makes the dictators’ courts I had witnessed, in Ibrahim Babangida’s Nigeria or Isam Karimov’s Uzbekistan, look fair and reasonable, in comparison to the gross charade of justice conducted by Michael Snow.”

SEE ALSO: Revealed: The British Government’s War on Assange and Media Freedom

At Southwark Crown Court on 1st May, the judge imposed a 12 month prison sentence on Assange for skipping the police bail in 2012 despite the fact no charges had ever been brought against him and successive Swedish investigations into sexual allegations had been dropped, with the most recent case dropped in 2017.  If we went looking for a ‘fair and reasonable’ application of the law it seems we would not find it in this court.  Anyone would have expected this sort of sentence in Victorian England or possibly in one of Donald Trump’s ‘shithole countries‘.

At Assange’s third court appearance, on 2nd May, which was conducted by video link, very few friendly faces were able to make it into court, as his case was moved to a small courtroom where only a few people were accommodated, despite many supporters turning up to attend. Only a few accredited press were allowed into small court, some of whom could have spent years smearing Assange.


So bearing in mind all of these questions hanging over the fairness of the British court system for Julian Assange, according to the standards of Clooney, the face of Hunt’s media freedom campaign, it seemed reasonable for this author to submit a ‘trial alert’ request to the Clooney Foundation to ask for Assange’s case to be monitored.  To-date they have yet to respond, but perhaps they are weighing up the odds it would meet with approval given husband George Clooney’s political alliances with Hillary Clinton who once suggested droning Assange.

Unfair treatment of Assange is not only visible through conditions set out in Clooney’s Trial Watch video; according to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention the sentence for skipping bail is disproportionate, and contravenes the “principles of necessity and proportionality envisaged by the human rights standards.”  Damning all round, by UN human rights standards and by the standards of Hunt’s very own media freedom envoy.

The day a British court dismissed entirely the human rights of a journalist fighting persecution,  Hunt’s Media Freedom campaign told us the British government cares about media freedom. Yes, we are to believe we have a civilised and fair government:

Starting Hunt’s campaign a few weeks before World Press Freedom Day allowed for a constant flow of Foreign Office propaganda about media freedom:

Hunt’s campaign is a trust-building exercise.  The government cannot be attacking civil and human rights or the power of journalists as the Fourth Estate, or abusing its legal systems and courts if it is seen promoting media freedom, giving scholarships to students in Africa, and showing it concern for ‘bastions of a free society.’

We were presented with courageous female role models who bring us the truth:

https://twitter.com/foreignoffice/status/1124199408667635712

And the role models were carefully picked: Christiane Amanpours career advocating for western military intervention is a long and impressive one, spanning from Yugoslavia, to Iraq, the Libya and Syria. Recently, she has spent years promoting regime change in Syria, which the British government has supported alongside its allies in the EU, the US and Gulf State dictatorships, making her a handsomely paid useful corporate media mouth piece.  What are the odds of seeing a Gazan reporter being given a platform by the Foreign Office?

World Press Freedom Day saw the airbrushing of Julian Assange by the liberal press freedom organisations the day after he began his fight in court against extradition to the US on charges that are effectively an unprecedented attack on journalism.

“Promoting journalistic safety and combating impunity for crimes against journalists are central elements within UNESCO‘s mandate.” 

How is it possible to have a World Press Freedom Day which promotes the role of the press in holding the powerful to account and at the same time ignores this unprecedented attack on truth-tellers?   The risk has been repeatedly stated:  if Assange is extradited to the US, no journalist or publisher is safe from persecution by the US government.

This is the dilemma of the liberal class: they want to champion human rights of journalists so they can hold power to account and at the same time they want to protect the status quo of the established Western liberal world order, whose corrupt and psychopathic nature has been exposed in unprecedented detail by a journalist. What’s more, the leaders of the order also promote democracy and human rights and fund press freedom projects.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Global Media Freedom Inquiry by the Foreign Affairs Committee is running alongside Hunt’s campaign.  It is another platform selling the idea the British government can tolerate its own people or peoples from around the world holding it to account. This very notion of willingness to be accountable is particularly unlikely given the government’s increasing contempt for international law and its increasingly authoritarian behaviour towards its own country’s media for ‘national security‘ reasons.  These include the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) on the media:

“It has put journalists and their sources at risk because it enables the authorities to go fishing through vast quantities of information. It allows the state to legally access journalistic communications and material in secret (including information capable of identifying journalistic sources), and there are no judicial hearings at which the interests of the journalist are represented. The cumulative impact of these developments for our industry is both detrimental and profound.”

Other examples can be seen on the National Union of Journalists website which also describes cases of journalists being placed unlawfully under police surveillance.

It’s important to note that although the UK recently rose in the press freedom index from 40 to 33, out of 180 countries, this followed changes in ratings of other countries, as  explained by Journalists Without Borders:

Although there have been improvements in some areas, unfortunately, part of the reason for the rise in the UK’s ranking is that the press freedom climate deteriorated so sharply in other countries.  We should hold ourselves to a higher standard, and seek to be one of the best, not worst-performing countries in Western Europe.”

The UK is likely to crash down the press freedom index if recommendations by the Law Commission follow the suggestions in its 2017  Review of the Official Secrets Act.  This has been described  as a “full frontal attack on whistle blowers” that would lead to prison sentences of up to 14 years and expand the definition of espionage to affect the people receiving the information, in other words  journalists and publishers.  This could lead to lengthy prison sentences for journalists and the criminalisation of journalism in the UK. Interesting Hunt’s media freedom campaign will coincide with another potentially crushing blow to journalism in 2019.

This takes us back to the government’s media freedom drive.  The motive behind the Foreign Affairs inquiry is likely to be multi-faceted and involves the triggering of funds destined for the Foreign Office. This is likely to be used in part in political meddling using journalists, steeped in human rights rhetoric – a practice already seen in countries such as Venezuela, where the UK is supporting the US-backed coup attempt against the democratically elected government.

Common sense and evidence tell us that, for the domestic audience, Hunt’s media freedom campaign is simply a public relations show designed to cover-up the true nature of a corrupt regime which has tried to dehumanise a journalist and which is slowly criminalising the profession of journalism.

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Author Nina Cross is an independent writer and researcher, and contributor to 21WIRE. To see more of her work, visit Nina’s archive.

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