UK should not deny media access based on propaganda label

The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
King Charles Street
London SW1A 2AH
United Kingdom

July 9, 2019

Dear Mr. Hunt,

I am writing to express my concern at your government’s decision to deny accreditation to the Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik to cover the global conference on media freedom taking place in London this week based on “their active role in spreading disinformation.” As you know, the Committee to Protect Journalists defends the rights of journalists around the world to report the news and has been actively involved in supporting the conference which gets underway tomorrow.

While we are well aware that both RT and Sputnik have broadcast disinformation, some of which has undermined democratic elections and put journalists at risk, we do not believe excluding them from covering the conference is an appropriate response. To the contrary, for the British government to deny access to RT and Sputnik, or any other news outlet, based on its determination that they constitute propaganda actually empowers autocratic governments around the world who use a similar rationale to justify repression of critical journalism.

In November 2018, CPJ was awarded the Chatham House Prize in recognition of our contribution to the improvement of international relations. In my acceptance speech, I noted, “There is a deliberate strategy underway to tempt the freedom of expression community, and liberal democracies more generally, to betray our principles. Adopting an ends-justify-the-means rationale to limit free expression only gives solace to tyrants and empowers those that seek to set this trap.” By denying RT and Sputnik accreditation based on a determination that these outlets are a form of propaganda, your government risks undermining the very principles of free expression that the conference was intended to promote. We urge you to reconsider your decision.


Joel Simon
Executive Director

[Editor’s note: The foreign secretary replied to CPJ in a letter dated July 18, 2019.]