Serving professional journalism since 1912

Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Conference season

This Autumn the Chartered Institute of Journalists heads to the south west for its annual conference. The historic county of Dorset is a glorious location for our main gathering of the year. I am surprised it has taken us so long to escape from London. In fact we haven’t ventured to the seaside for an Institute AGM for a good few years. I am sure I am not the only CIoJ member with happy memories of conferencing during the ‘80s, 90s and noughties in such places as Eastbourne, Worthing, Llandudno and – more exotically – Gibraltar and Malta! Hopefully this year’s experience “beside the seaside, beside the sea” will tempt us to return to coastal venues for our meetings more often in future – whether or not we have time for a stroll along the prom-prom-prom or the brass bands still play Tiddely-on-pom-pom!

Of course, the CIoJ conference is not just about fish & chips and the bracing sea air. This is the key opportunity for members to interrogate the officers of the Institute and to debate the pressing issues of the day. Among these must surely be the various challenges to press freedom both here in the UK and throughout the world. If we look at the domestic scene, the picture is not particularly bright. Not only do we still have a confused situation on press regulation, with two rival regulatory bodies vying for industry support and public trust, but the decline of newspapers has meant a continuing shrinkage of jobs in journalism – in the past 10 years we have seen more than 300 local and regional papers closing down. Where will all this end? If we finish up with a muzzled national press and a decimated local press this will have far-reaching implications for democracy in this country, because accurate information and balanced journalism are absolutely key to any free society. We need an active, independent, national and local press to hold our lords and masters to account.

Globally, there are even bigger challenges. In many countries freedom of the press is even more fragile than it is here in Britain – and in some it is non-existent. For thousands of our fellow journalists around the world, the hazards are infinitely worse than ending up in court or losing your job. Journalism can be a matter of life and death. Unsurprisingly, Iraq and Syria still head the league table of suppression and murder of journalists, but it is not just in Middle East war zones where it is highly dangerous to pursue our profession. Turkish President Erdogan and recently-elected Philippine President Duterte are among the leaders who seem to have no respect whatever for press freedom or the lives of journalists. The same could be said, of course, for Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who has long been an enemy of journalism. Altogether more than a thousand journalists and media workers have been killed in the line of duty in the past two decades, many of them murdered by regimes or state agencies for the crime of trying to report the facts – or simply for asking too many tricky questions.

Let us not forget those members of our profession, world-wide, who have paid the ultimate price.

Andy Smith