Rob McLoughlin, the North West based broadcaster and producer, has warned an audience in Beijing that “free speech has declined to its lowest level in more than a decade.”

He revealed that research shows that only 35% of the world’s population live in a country with a media unshackled by Government or institutions or terrorist organisations – while the number living with only a ‘partly free media’ has increased.

The former World in Action investigator and board director of Granada Television said; “There has never been a time when the world has been more connected, with 6.8 billion cell phone subscriptions in circulation, yet there’s never been a time when lives and liberty have been more at risk because of it.”

At The Foreign Studies University he told students and delegates at a conference on China’s brand image that “The Economist newspaper highlighted the dichotomy in June 2016 when it pointed out that many Governments, religious organisations and others feel they have a right ‘not be offended’ by the media or by opponents – sometimes by satirists and comedians or cartoonists.”

“Frightened and alarmed though sometimes acting with good intent they end up suffocating the very thing which makes society work, free expression.”

To an audience of future diplomats and journalists he showed clips from leading investigative programmes and stated; “Reporting has always been dangerous but 17 journalists have died in Mexico since 2010 and many others threatened and injured, yet Mexico is not a war zone.

“Sadly 31 journalists and news teams have died this year according to the New York based Campaign for The Protection of Journalists and many more are at risk.

“In 2013 Britain’s Monty Python team reunited but unlike the way they lampooned Christianity with the movie, The Life of Brian, they would not touch Islam. Michael Palin said; ’There are people without a sense of humour and they are heavily armed’.

“Tragically Michael Palin was proved right with the murder of 12 cartoonists and satirists in Paris with the Charlie Hebdo magazine murders in 2015. They died for no reason which made sense.”

McLoughlin, who presented ITV Granada’s political programmes from 1994-2015 spoke of the arrests of ‘dissidents’ in China and Russia as well as people for being ‘outspoken’ in France and Germany.

“The world has forgotten that there is an ‘off button’; you can change channels, switch news sources, choose not to attack rival opinions and turn to violence. Arrests, intimidation and threats have free speech in retreat.”

He concluded; “We have to ask do we, does anyone have a right not to be offended – or is it time we left the world to make its own choices on what is right and wrong?”

The conference 2016 Marco Polo in Contemporary China was organised in association with The Business Research Institute at The University of Chester and selected speeches will appear in the academic publication The Journal of Public Affairs published by Wiley.