BBC’s Tony Hall: ‘We need to stand together’ to defend journalism against ‘utterly shameful’ violence and online abuse

The BBC is prepared to work together with other print, online and broadcast media to defend journalism in response to the “utterly shameful” targeting of reporters across the world, its director general said today.

Tony Hall said the most important issue for journalists right now is the increasing threat to the ability to report without fear of reprisal, leaving journalism under siege with “brutal” consequences.

“We have become far too used to the targeting and killing of journalists in Mexico, or in Afghanistan, or during the war in Syria,” Hall told the News Xchange conference in Edinburgh in a keynote speech yesterday.

“And we’ve recently seen the fatal shootings of five colleagues at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis [Maryland].

“But look at what’s been happening here in Europe too. We’ve seen the targeted killings of investigative journalists – like Daphne Caruana in Malta and Jan Kuciak in Slovakia – both shot dead when they were exposing corruption in their countries.

“It is hard to remember a time in which journalists across the world have been deliberately targeted in the way they are today. The fact that is happening is utterly shameful. It’s unacceptable.”

Hall also criticised the abuse directed at journalists on Twitter, saying BBC journalists face less extreme violence than those in other countries but that online aggression is “almost a campaign to denigrate our craft”.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg was last year assigned a bodyguard to cover the Labour Party conference after receiving floods of abuse online. She said in July it is “uglier out there now” and that she had considered leaving social media altogether.

“On Twitter there are constant anonymous threats to journalists simply reporting on opinions that some people might not want to hear,” Hall said.

“Some of the material that journalists have had to face is – quite frankly – disgraceful. It is an attempt to intimidate people and stop them doing their jobs.”

Hall said today’s interconnected world is “alive with activism and aggression and a sense that if you do not agree with someone else you are their enemy”.

“And what happens if that enemy is powerful?” he asked. “A government, or those who enforce the law. Are you then the enemy of authority?”

Hall called on journalists across all fields and rival newspapers to defend their role in society of “seeking out the facts, no matter how inconvenient they may be for others”.

“Because journalism matters – whether you’re in broadcasting, in the press or working online,” he added.

“Whether (in this country) you are The Mail or the Mirror, the Sun or the Guardian, The Times or the Telegraph, the Express or the Independent – we are all in this together. We’re an essential part of society. We all matter.

“And we need to stand together on this. If there are ways we can work together to defend journalism, the BBC stands ready to work with others across the industry to do just that.

“But I believe public service journalism has a unique role in the mix.”

Read Hall’s full keynote speech here.

Picture: Channel 4 News

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