A Commonwealth Round Table Conference on ‘Global Challenges and the International Response: What role for the Commonwealth?’ took place on 18-19 January, 2023 at the Cumberland Residential Lodge in Windsor.
Session one: ‘Multilateralism and soft power in an age of nationalism, conflict and division’
Session two: ‘Climate change, small states, inequality and development’
Session four: ‘After Kigali: The Commonwealth’s future challenges’
The third panel engaged with how the Commonwealth might tackle issues of media freedom and the challenge of upholding democracy in an increasingly authoritarian global context. The speakers were united by the belief that the Commonwealth needed to display greater strength in furthering, monitoring and enforcing adherence to its core values among member-countries in order to make a significant impact within the geopolitical landscape and in the lives of its citizens.
Brian H. Speers (President of the Commonwealth Lawyers’ Association) felt that the Commonwealth regularly commits itself to principles of human rights and democracy with ‘fine words’ but questioned whether words were ‘sufficient’ in the current political climate. The Commonwealth Media Principles, unanimously adopted at the last CHOGM [Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting], are a key part of the organisation’s efforts to protect democracy and press freedoms. However, Speers expressed scepticism that their adoption would make a tangible difference to Commonwealth media freedom, as they draw heavily on the 2003 Latimer House Principles which have seen little implementation across member states in the last 20 years. Speers therefore called for the Commonwealth to take its ‘words and live them’, placing more emphasis on monitoring and implementation, than on resolutions and agreements.
Round Table’s Stuart Mole in conversation with panellist Baroness Prashar:
Round Table’s Alexandra Jones in conversation with Dr Kiran Hassan:
Dr Kiran Hassan (Research Associate Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies) spoke of a global media in flux, dogged by multiple challenges such as violence against journalists, sedition charges, poor employment opportunities and declining trust in media. With a global rise in authoritarianism, democratic principles and press freedom are under siege in countries across the Commonwealth. She identified three main trends in global media that the Commonwealth should consider. Firstly, China’s media hegemony and influence, especially in Africa, and globally through apps like TikTok. Secondly, the consolidation of media power in the hands of a few individuals through ownership of platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Thirdly, the failure of media to adequately communicate the climate emergency.
Rt Hon Baroness Usha Prashar (Chair of Trustees, Cumberland Lodge) felt that democracy is being taken for granted within the developing world, despite it ‘fraying at the edges’ in the face of immense global challenges. In this context, the Commonwealth offers a unique network of cross-cultural human linkages with could act as a beacon for illustrating the implementation of democratic principles. Prashar raised concerns over whether the future of the Commonwealth should lie in significantly widening its membership, warning that an increase in members could ‘dilute its values’. Instead, Prashar suggested the potential for the Commonwealth to deepen the existing connections between member-countries, strengthening its global contribution.
Conference keynote address by the Commonwealth Secretary-General and interview
Opinion on the Round Table Conference – ‘Global Challenges and the International Response: What role for the Commonwealth?’
Session three: : ‘Upholding human rights, press freedom and democracy: Can the Commonwealth make a difference?’
Arif Zaman talks about the conference on his Bloomsbury Radio Business Show with guests Alex May, Brian Speers, Nick Hardman-Mountford, Rita Payne and Helen Jones