HC Deb 10 March 1993 vol 220 cc935-6
13. Mr. Peter Bottomley

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on media training for journalists from middle and eastern Europe.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

The media have an important role to play in the process of political and economic reform in central Europe. The know-how fund has therefore set up a number of projects to train journalists and other media personnel from the area. Major programmes have been managed for the know-how fund by the BBC World Service and the Thomson Foundation, covering Poland, Hungary, the former Czecholsovakia, Romania and Bulgaria.

Mr. Bottomley

May I put it to my right hon. and learned Friend that if all 650 projects under the know-how fund are well managed by organisations as good as the World Service, we can be proud of the £50 million that we are putting into that work?

Mr. Hogg

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I think that his point is well made.

Mr. Tony Banks

Will the Minister make it quite clear that the services of Mr. John Birt will not be used on the courses for journalists to teach the comrades how to keep their zlotys and roubles out of the hands of the taxman?

Mr. Hogg

I would not choose to make such a trivial point.

Mr. Butcher

Does my hon. Friend agree that, given Russia's awful problems at the moment, the last thing the Russian people need is a rampant fourth estate? Does he further agree that the term tragedy is not an understatement as there is a high risk of immense problems and sadnesses emerging inside Russia which should be the top priority of the Foreign Office? Perhaps that should exercise the bulk of our energies instead of something that historians may see as a side-show around a town called Maastricht.

Mr. Hogg

I do not entirely agree with my hon. Friend who makes a serious point about the turmoil in Russia. That is true, but as much as we may sometimes dislike the press, we must recognise that a free and independent press is an essential condition in a pluralistic and democratic country—[Interruption.] We are doing our best to have one here. Although it is sometimes not all that easy to live with, I am in favour of a free and independent press. I think that is as true of Russia as it is of anywhere else in the world of which I have ever heard.

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