Threats to journalism explored during inaugural UNESCO lecture

The threats that face journalism and the civil values it represents were explored by the Head of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Journalism Studies during her inaugural lecture as UNESCO Chair on Media Freedom, Journalism Safety and the Issue of Impunity.

Professor Jackie Harrison, who was awarded the prestigious UNESCO Chair earlier this year, delivered the talk as part of International Journalism Week 2018.

She examined the diminishment of the civil and truth-telling standing of news journalism through the use of oppression, violence and intimidation and more generally through the creation of an antagonistic environment where the news media are weaponised for political and commercial ends.

Professor Harrison argued it is the nature of the clash between these anti-civil forces and the forms of civil resistance the news media take which ultimately determines the kind of news we receive, participate in and act upon.

Professor Harrison said: “The ongoing attacks on news journalism and journalists undermine freedom of expression and access to information. My role is to act as a bridgehead between academia and policy through the production of high quality research, information, documentation and teaching within the Sustainable Development Goals agenda that contribute to the sustainable development of free and independent news media worldwide and ultimately a safer environment for journalists and journalism.”

Her Majesty’s Ambassador to UNESCO Matthew Lodge congratulated Professor Harrison on her inaugural lecture.

He said: “Foreign Secretary the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt has set out how defending free speech is a UK priority just as it is a priority of UNESCO.

“The Foreign Secretary said ‘defending a free media must therefore be a central element of British foreign policy, in keeping with our country’s role as an invisible chain linking the nations that share our values.’

“I was also struck by his quote from J.S. Mill that 'the time, it is to be hoped, is gone by when any defence would be necessary of the liberty of the press as one of the securities against corrupt or tyrannical government’.

Jackie Harrison“Sadly around 160 years later, that time is not gone by and just as UNESCO seeks to build the defences of peace in the minds of men and women, the need for defence of the liberty of the press remains. Professor Harrison’s inaugural lecture shines further light on the need for this essential work.”

The inaugural lecture in the University’s Diamond building was titled Diminishment and Resistance and sought to address the civil and anti-civil power of news and news journalism.

Karen Merkel, Non-Executive Director, Communications Portfolio at the UK National Commission for UNESCO, added: “Across the world, journalists routinely face serious threats to their lives. Over 255 journalists were jailed and 82 journalists were murdered in 2017 and 19 in 2018 so far.

“These deaths are the decisive weapon against freedom of expression and in more than 90 percent of these killings, no-one has been brought to justice. I join others in wholeheartedly welcoming Professor Jackie Harrison as UNESCO Chair in Media Freedom, Journalism Safety and the Issue of Impunity.

“UNESCO is the UN agency with a mandate to foster freedom of expression, press freedom and freedom of information. I know that Jackie’s many years of experience and in-depth knowledge will add greatly to UNESCO’s expertise. I very much look forward to her joining the UK’s UNESCO family in this role.”

The new Chair was established in recognition of the extent and diverse nature of threats to free and independent journalism. These range from climates of self-censorship to imprisonment, escalating violence and murder, and impunity for the perpetrators.

Professor Harrison is also chair and co-founder of the Centre for Freedom of the Media (CFOM) at the University of Sheffield, which aims to inform and advise governments, policymakers and stakeholders internationally on threats to media freedom, in order to bring about positive changes to laws, policy and practice and to uphold standards of journalism safety worldwide.

The UNESCO Chair will build on CFOM’s work by strengthening and developing links between higher education institutions, development bodies, media organisations and journalists – through its own networks and through the development and growth of the Journalism Safety Research Network (JSRN). This will focus on the areas of media freedom, freedom of expression, media development and access to information and knowledge at global, regional, national and local levels.

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

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For further information please contact:

Hannah Postles
Media Relations Officer
The University of Sheffield
0114 222 1046