Diminishment and Resistance: The civil and anti-civil power of news and news journalism

Professor Jackie Harrison gave her inaugural lecture as UNESCO Chair on Media Freedom, Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity at the University of Sheffield on 7th November.

Her Majesty’s Ambassador to UNESCO Matthew Lodge said:

“As the UK’s Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, I would like to congratulate the University of Sheffield and Professor Jackie Harrison on her inaugural lecture as UNESCO Chair on Media Freedom, Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. Foreign Secretary the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt last week 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”. 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 was titled Diminishment and Resistance and sought to address the civil and anti-civil power of news and news journalism. The best way to understand the threats to free and independent journalism is as a constant conflict between the forces of civil diminishment and news and news journalism’s capacity to offer civil resistance. This lecture looked at the architecture of this conflict and how civil resistance survives and is maintained . 

Karen Merkel, Non-Executive Director, Communication and Information 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 per cent of these killings, no-one has been brought to justice. I join others in wholeheartedly welcoming Professor Jackie Harrison as UNESCO Chair on Media Freedom, Safety of Journalists 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.