Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney accused world leaders Wednesday of failing to protect journalists and responding with “a collective shrug” over the slaying of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi.
Clooney, the British government’s envoy on media freedom, said at a conference on press freedom that “journalists are under attack like never before,” not just while covering wars but also for exposing crime and corruption.
“The vast majority of these murders go unpunished,” she said, adding that “world leaders responded with little more than a collective shrug” to Khashoggi’s killing by agents close to Saudi Arabia’s crown prince.
The Washington Post columnist was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, last year.
According to the United Nations cultural body UNESCO, 99 media workers were killed worldwide in 2018.
The London conference where Clooney spoke was called by U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland with the aim of improving protection for journalists around the world.
The gathering announced the founding of a global fund to provide training, legal support and other resources for journalists in danger zones, administered by the U.N. cultural body. It’s unclear how much money the fund will have; Britain committed $3.8 million and Canada $760,000.
Politicians, officials, activists and journalists from more than 100 countries attended the two-day meeting, but two Russian news outlets were banned.
The British government said the Russian news agency Sputnik and state-owned TV network RT were excluded because of their alleged “active role in spreading disinformation.”
RT was censured last year by Britain’s broadcast regulator for breaking U.K. impartiality rules in its coverage of the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy in England.
RT, formerly known as Russia Today, said “it takes a particular brand of hypocrisy to advocate for freedom of press while banning inconvenient voices and slandering alternative media.”
Organizers did not release a full list of conference participants but said delegations were expected from nations with dire press freedom records, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Britain’s Hunt told the attendees that “media freedom is not a Western value but a universal value.”
“The strongest safeguard against the dark side of power is accountability and scrutiny,” he said.
Hunt said countries that silenced journalists and curtailed freedom of the press must be made to pay a “diplomatic price.” He singled out China, which routinely censors the internet, as an example of a country where “the situation continues to deteriorate.”
Hunt also criticized Donald Trump’s verbal attacks on journalists, whom the U.S. president has branded enemies of the people.
“I wouldn’t use the language President Trump used, and I wouldn’t agree with it,” he said. “We have to remember that what we say can have an impact in other countries where they can’t take press freedom for granted.”
Clooney also took aim at Trump, saying “the country of James Madison” — one of America’s founding fathers and a champion of a free press — “has a leader today who vilifies the media.”