Friday, 30 November 2012

On Freedom of the Press

With discussion in the UK media today about freedom of the press and state regulation or interference in the press I thought it opportune to highlight two archive collections which contain much on the freedom of the press in the Commonwealth and in particular in the developing nations in the post-independence world.

The Commonwealth Journalists' Association was founded by a group of journalists in 1978 following a conference of Commonwealth non-governmental organisations held at Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, Canada, with the objective of catering for the needs of individual journalists in Commonwealth countries. The CJA's objectives include the raising of journalistic standards by the provision of training courses, the encouragement of an interest in and knowledge of Commonwealth affairs and the defence of the independence of journalists where a threat is perceived. The CJA takes a particular interest in safeguarding the rights of journalists in countries where press freedom is restricted and has intervened on several occasions, sometimes in collaboration with other interested bodies, to secure the re-opening of a newspaper or the release of journalists from prison.

The Commonwealth Journalists' Association archives date from 1998 to 2003 and detail training courses, conference and activity related to defending and encouraging a feee independent press. The collection was catalogued earlier this year, with thanks to and support from the Scott Trust Charitable Foundation and the Friends of Senate House Library (SHeLF).

The Commonwealth Press Union started in the early 20th century as the Empire Press Union, with the staging of the first Imperial Press Conference, and continued operation until 2008. At its peak, the Commonwealth Press Union (CPU) was an association composed of 750 members in 49 countries, including newspaper groups (with several hundred newspapers), individual newspapers, and news agencies throughout the Commonwealth, represented within the CPU by their proprietors, publishers or senior executives. The aims and objectives of the organisation were to uphold the ideas and values of the Commonwealth; to promote, through the press, understanding and goodwill among members of the Commonwealth; and to advance the freedom, interests and welfare of the Commonwealth press and those working within it by i) monitoring and opposing all measures and proposals likely to affect the freedom of the press in any part of the Commonwealth, ii) working for improved facilities for reporting and transmitting news, and iii) promoting the training of all involved in the Commonwealth’s press.

The Commonwealth Press Union archives contain the records and publications of the Empire Press Union, and the Commonwealth Press Union, including official records relating to the administration of the organisation, circulars and bulletins, and conference papers and reports. The records include details of seminars and conferences and case work relating to freedom of the press issues across the Commonwealth. In addition to the listed records availabile on the catalogue an additional donation of material was made in 2009, and with the assistance of a volunteer, a detailed handlist is being prepared for this collection while funding is being sought for a cataloguing project. Any enquiries about this latter material are very welcome.

Both collections provide valuable source material for understanding freedom of the press issues across the Commonwealth as well as an understanding of international cooperation and support for freedom of the press from newspaper publishers and journalists.

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