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Visit to Uthayan 'brought home' challenges journalists face - David Cameron

Cameron inspects bullet holes in Uthayan printing press during his visit in 2013

British Prime Minister David Cameron has spoken of his experience in visiting the violence-hit Uthayan office in Jaffna in 2013, during a debate on press freedom in parliament earlier this month.

Responding to a question by Conservative MP John Whittingdale, who asked the prime minister to reaffirm the British government's commitment to protect the safety of journalists, in relation to the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, Mr Cameron said the visit to the Uthayan office brought home what journalists in other countries had to face.

"This most struck me when I visited Jaffna, in northern Sri Lanka, and went to see a newspaper office that had been shot up, bombed and burned. That brings home what journalists in other countries have for years faced in bringing the truth and putting it in front of the people, which is a vital part of a free democratic system," the prime minister said.

Cameron meets Uthayan journalists in Jaffna

Full exchange below:

Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the past 12 months, more than 60 journalists have been killed in the course of their work, including those at Charlie Hebdo last week? Just five weeks ago, I and several other Members of Parliament attended the signing in Paris of a declaration by representatives of every European country, recognising the vital role of journalists in a free society and pledging to do everything possible to protect their safety. Will my right hon. Friend reaffirm that commitment today?

The Prime Minister: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he does in supporting the freedom of the press and I certainly reiterate what he says today. This most struck me when I visited Jaffna, in northern Sri Lanka, and went to see a newspaper office that had been shot up, bombed and burned. That brings home what journalists in other countries have for years faced in bringing the truth and putting it in front of the people, which is a vital part of a free democratic system. Obviously, the events in Paris are truly horrific, and the duty of everyone in public life is not necessarily to say whether or not we agree with this or that being published—everyone can have their opinion; it is not that that matters. What matters is that we should always defend the right of people to publish whatever is inside the law and in their opinion right to publish. That is our job and we must do it properly.

British Premier's historic Jaffna visit raises Tamil hopes (15 November 2013)