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New Hope for Ethiopian Journalists to Commemorate World Press Freedom Day

In a speech at the African Union headquarters to commemorate World Press Freedom Day, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed encouraged journalists to “seize” the moment

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freedom, journalists, ethiopia
Abiy Ahmed, prime minister of Ethiopia, speaks during the Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize ceremony in Addis Ababa, May 2, 2019. VOA

This story originated in the Amharic service. Salem Solomon contributed to the story.

Ethiopia’s historic strides toward democracy and openness have given journalists in the country hope for greater freedom to report the news.

In a speech at the African Union headquarters to commemorate World Press Freedom Day, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed encouraged journalists to “seize” the moment.

But he also cautioned restraint.

“We need to ensure that the opening up of the media space does not facilitate misinformation, the spread of hate speech and fake news,” Abiy said. “The pivotal moment that Ethiopia is in right now to help into its true potential can only be realized when those who are tasked with a duty to inform are aware of the responsibilities that come with such freedoms.”

journalists, ethiopia, freedom
Abiy Ahmed, prime minister of Ethiopia, and Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO’s director-general, attend the Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize ceremony in Addis Ababa, o May 2, 2019. – The ceremony, hosted by the Ethiopian government, is part of the World Press Day event organized by UNESCO in the city of Addis Ababa. VOA

A delicate balance

Last year, Abiy made worldwide news when he released all journalists held in Ethiopian jails. It marked the first time in 14 years that no journalists were behind bars in the country, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported.

Ethiopia also opened up internet access and unblocked about 260 websites.

Ethiopian journalists attending the event, organized by UNESCO, said working for more press freedom while dealing with the threat posed by irresponsible media is a difficult balancing act.

Tsedale Lemma, the editor-in-chief of Addis Standard, a weekly independent magazine, said the press must meet high standards and report with integrity in the wake of newfound freedoms.

“For far too long, we’ve been asking the government to liberalize the media, to lift its pressure on the media, its suppression on the media. A lot of sacrifices have been paid by many, many journalists throughout the past many years, and now that that time arrived, it sort of caught us unprepared,” she said.

Tsedale worries about the rise of what she calls “populist media” that sensationalizes news and stirs up ethnic hatred in the country. She said it is the job of the press to police itself, with government assistance.

“It is a delicate balance that we need to diligently thread through, and the government needs to pay attention not in a way of bringing back its suppression but in a way of supporting genuine journalists who are trying hard to do professional journalism,” she said.

journalists, ethiopia, freedom
Hamid Mir, journalist and member of the jury, speaks during the Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize ceremony in Addis Ababa, May 2, 2019. The ceremony, hosted by the Ethiopian government, is part of the World Press Day event organized by UNESCO. VOA

Ethiopia offers hope

Worldwide, about 100 journalists were killed in the past year, and more than 300 remain in prison.

But some international attendees at the conference found hope in Ethiopia’s achievements.

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Hamid Mir, a Pakistani journalist, told VOA’s Amharic service that he did not expect to find Ethiopia hosting an event to commemorate press freedom.

“It was a great surprise for me that, in just one year, in 2018, Ethiopia was a country where lots of journalists were behind the bars,” he said. “When the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came into power, he liberalized the media. He released all political prisoners, and many journalists they were also released.” (VOA)

Next Story

54 Journalists attacked in India in the span of 16 months by “lawmakers and law enforcers”, says Report

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An Indian man reads a newspaper in front of a newsstand in New Delhi, India, March 15, 2016. VOA

New Delhi, May 3, 2017: As many as 54 attacks on journalists were reported in 16 months, mainly by “lawmakers and law enforcers”, a report compiled by media watchdog Hoot said on Tuesday, a day ahead of the World Press Freedom Day.

The report said the actual figure could be much higher as a minister told Parliament that “142 attacks on journalists took place between 2014-15”.

“The stories behind each of these attacks reveal a clear and persistent pattern. Investigative reporting is becoming increasingly dangerous. Journalists who venture out into the field to investigate any story, be it sand mining, stone quarrying, illegal construction, police brutality, medical negligence, eviction drive, election campaigns, or civic administration corruption are under attack,” it said.

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The attacks were committed by political parties and their leaders (8), police (9), and mobs resisting media coverage (9).

Apart from attacks, the report took into account invocation of sedition law, suspension of Internet services in a region, self-censorship on part of media companies, censoring of films and other arts, among other instances which may frustrate free functioning of the media.

The shutdown of the printing presses of two Kashmir newspapers after the killing of militant Burhan Wani, and the ban on Kashmir Reader for three months during the same period, were cited in the report as instances of media censorship.

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Other such instances included a one-day ban on NDTV news channel for its coverage of the Pathankot attack last January, which “… supposed to have revealed strategic information about the operation”.

The Information and Broadcasting Ministry however put the ban on hold after the channel approached the Supreme Court.

The sedition law was also used unsparingly and “went viral”, as the report said.

“A large number of cases were filed — 18 between January and June last year. By the end of the year, the figure was 40,” it said.

The media watchdog cited examples of killings of Right to Information (RTI) activists, and appointment of ‘bureaucrats’ as Chief Information Commissioners instead of “persons of eminence in public life”, as the concerned Act says.

“Currently, 91.6 per cent of Chief Information Commissioners in states are retired bureaucrats, as are 93 per cent of Central Information Commissioners,” the report said.

Jammu and Kashmir suffered the longest and bans on Internet services the most — 13 times in 16 months, with Haryana coming second with Internet suspension nine times in as many months. (IANS)