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Prime Minister's keynote speech at the Society of Editors 25th Anniversary Conference: 30 April 2024

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's speech at the Society of Editors 25th Anniversary Conference in London.

Good morning.

Just before I start, I would like to say that my thoughts are with all those affected by the incident in East London this morning and put on record my thanks to the emergency teams who are responding and pay tribute to their bravery. 

Dawn, thank you for the kind introduction. 

I believe you worked for one of our great regional papers in my home town – Southampton’s Daily Echo – which obviously I know well. I still actually have the Echo app on my phone to keep up with Saints news. 

And it’s great to be talking to you all here this morning.

You know, I was away last week in Poland and Germany talking about European security. 

And nothing makes you feel more at home, in these troubled times… 

…than coming back home to the British papers reflecting the things I am most passionate about…

Front page of The Telegraph: Defence Spending. 

The Times: Defence Spending. 

The Guardian: Defence Spending. 

And, The Sun… Taylor Swift’s Guide To London Pubs.

No just joking, The Sun also actually did stellar reporting of the defence spending announcement too.

And actually as a defence champion and a devoted Swiftie…

…nothing could make me prouder of this country’s sensational journalism – covering what matters to me the most.  

But I want to begin with a big congratulations to the Society of Editors on your 25th anniversary. 

For a quarter of a century now, you’ve been championing media freedom.

Back when you were first formed, the world was a very different place.

The Berlin Wall was a mere memory. 

Democracy was in the ascendancy. 

Facebook and Twitter were still some years off. 

But today, things have changed. 

This year over four billion people are heading to the polls – more than ever before. 

But no one is talking now, as they did 25 years ago, about democracy’s triumph and the end of history. 

Freedom House says that global freedom has declined for the 18th consecutive year.

And as you know, 2023 was one of the deadliest years for journalists on record. 

New technology is being used to peddle propaganda and false narratives.

Disinformation is fomenting division, undermining the truth – and journalists themselves are even becoming the victim of deep fakes.  

And we face an axis of authoritarian states… 

…Russia, Iran, North Korea, China… 

…who are united by their shared antipathy to our values and our freedoms… 

…and are growing more assertive all the time. 

Friday marks World Press Freedom Day. 

And I’d like to take this chance to pay tribute to all those suffering behind bars in the name of freedom and democracy.

To Evan Gershkovich, Vladimir Kara-Murza, Sergei Tikhanovsky, Jimmy Lai, Narges Mohammadi, and so many more.

To the Iranian-British journalist Pouria Zeraati, who was stabbed on the street here in London just a month ago.  

To Alexei Navalny, whose decision to return home to stand for his principles, when Putin had already tried to have him killed…

…was surely one of the greatest acts of individual courage of the 21st century. 

And to the men and women of Ukraine who are on the frontline of the fight for the values we hold dear. 

I know you will join me in saying that we stand with them all. 

And it just shows that our values – and the principles this body was founded on – are more important than ever:

Free Speech. 

A vibrant, diverse media sector. 

High journalistic standards. 

And the freedom for journalists to inform, investigate and report, without fear or favour.

That’s why we’re acting to protect a free press here at home.

We’re repealing Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, which could stifle freedom of speech and threaten the sustainability of the press.

We’re making sure that public service broadcasters can compete as technology changes…

… by modernising the “mission statement” for public service TV…

…and making sure public service content is carried by connected devices and online platforms.

And we’re going to put an end to Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation – so-called SLAPPs…

…to stop those with deep pockets abusing our courts and preventing the exposure of corruption and economic crime.

It’s why we’re defending democracy, and tackling unacceptable threats to MPs… 

…putting in place new measures to protect them from intimidation, and new defences against foreign interference and disinformation.

And it’s why we must tackle the chilling effect of so called “cancel culture”…

…the shutting down of people’s views…

…and making people fearful of speaking out. 

Because that is not who we are. 

That is not what this country stands for.

Democracy depends on the ability to air our views…

…to challenge and interrogate people’s standpoints…

…and to learn from different perspectives and experiences.

And if we value a liberal, pluralistic society, we cannot allow one group of people to say their experiences are more important than others. 

And I stand by that declaration of George Orwell’s, carved into the wall outside the BBC…

“If Liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

This is vital for the future of a free press.

More than that, it is vital for the future of our democracy.

So we will continue to stand for these principles here at home. 

And we must go further to strengthen freedoms around the world too. 

Over the last five years we’ve backed international media and free flow of information with over £600 million…

…making the UK one of the five leading nations in championing this cause. 

It includes supporting the BBC World Service which reaches over 300 million people each week…

…and has planted countless seeds of freedom. 

It includes training for journalists around the world…

…and nurturing media outlets in countries like Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Bangladesh. 

It also includes supporting the Global Media Defence Fund, which has benefitted over 7,000 journalists…

…and our leadership in founding the global Media Freedom Coalition – together with Canada.

Now we’re also working to ensure that the opportunities of technology are not exploited by the enemies of democracy. 

And that’s why we brought the world together here to discuss how to manage the risks of AI…

…and created the first ever AI Safety Institute.  

And we are meeting this threat head on – ensuring we do so in a way that doesn’t hamper freedom of expression but enhances it. 

Now we do all this because it matters…

…and because media freedom is a catalyst.

Because when the media holds governments accountable…

…exposes corruption…

…and gives new voices a platform…

…it strengthens democracy…

…it enriches society… 

…it builds the habits of freedom.

And in conclusion, I say that politicians and the media will always clash. 

It’s a law of nature – as much as night follows day. 

And I won’t always like what you write, or the questions that you ask.

I might not agree with what you say… or the way you represent the government’s actions.

But that’s ok. 

You probably don’t love me always finding a way to mention that inflation is coming down…

…or our tax cuts, which by the way will be hitting payslips today! 

£900 in average earners pockets.

The plan is working. 

And just in the last few weeks, we’ve also got the Rwanda Bill passed to stop the boats.

We’ve set out major welfare reforms to better target support for those who need it, and help people back into work…

We’re cracking down on retail crime which damages communities and local businesses…

… and we’ve announced a generational investment in British defence and security making us safer at home and stronger abroad.

Now it’s my job to deliver on the things that matters to people – and to shout about it. 

And it’s your job to hold us to account. 

And for all we might clash, I know how important your role is.

So please keep doing what you do…

…constantly questioning, investigating, seeking the truth.

Because as long as the British media continues to thrive, so will British democracy.

Thank you.


Channel website: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/prime-ministers-office-10-downing-street

Original article link: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/prime-ministers-keynote-speech-at-the-society-of-editors-25th-anniversary-conference-30-april-2024

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