Ethiopia hosts historic World Press Freedom Day

9 May 2019

The 26th World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) took place in Addis Ababa from 1st to 3rd May and was heralded as a reflection of the current social and political transformations in Ethiopia.

African Union Commission (AUC) Deputy Chairperson, Ambassador Thomas Kwesi Quartey inaugurated the event together with Dr. Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, and the President of Ethiopia, H.E. Sahle Work-Zewde.

Speaking at the historic event, both Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Sahle Work-Zewde made a commitment to promote and defend press freedom in the country and conveyed their pride in hosting the global celebration.

“The symbolism of this grand gesture is even more important – given that only one year ago Ethiopia was labelled as Africa’s foremost jailer of journalists and one of the most repressive environments in the world for the functioning of independent news”, said PM Abiy.

The UNESCO Director-General highlighted the media’s contribution to democracy – “by exercising their profession it is our freedom that journalists and the media defend all over the world”.

The AUC Deputy Chairperson reiterated the Commission’s commitment to promoting press Freedom in AU member states “we are optimistic that this WPFD will be an opportunity to draw attention to the great potential of the media, so they can be prepared in supporting the process of peace, freedom and reconciliation in society”.

This was echoed by the UNECA Executive Secretary who said, “Freedom of speech is the ultimate trademark of a just society, but unfortunately, limited press freedom continues to undermine the ability of the media to carry out this role.”

This year’s event had a significantly high attendance with almost 2,000 participants registered to attend over 30 sessions, which echoed different aspects of the overall theme: ‘Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation’.

Anticipating the 2020 Ethiopian elections, acclaimed Ethiopian journalist Tsedale Lemma in her keynote speech said:

“This year’s theme of World Press Freedom Day couldn’t have come at a better moment for Ethiopia. Going by the repeated promises of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to make the 2020 general elections free and fair, we may be looking at the historic dawn of the true beginning of electoral democracy in which Ethiopians could finally decide on who their representatives should be.”

WPFD delegates also celebrated the importance of freedom of artistic expression, including through the participation of 26 press cartoonists, convened by the association, Cartooning for Peace. Several exhibitions, a live drawing mural of press cartoons and a number of discussion panels reflected the close links between press freedom and freedom of artistic expression.

The Addis Ababa Declaration was adopted by the participants on 3rd May. The document highlights the role of journalism in facilitating peaceful, credible, inclusive, transparent, free and fair elections. The Declaration calls on Member States, including their electoral management bodies to strengthen legal and policy frameworks that guarantee respect for freedom of expression and privacy, and foster a diverse, independent media sector.

The event closed with an announcement that the 27thedition of the WPFD celebrations will be held in the Netherlands.

 

…New era for Ethiopia’s journalists: RSF

Reporters Without Borders ranked Ethiopia 110thout of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index – a huge 40 places leap from 150thrank last year, reflecting the reforms by PM Abiy.

Over the last year, Ethiopia has made spectacular progress. For the first time in more than 10 years, Ethiopia no longer has any journalists or bloggers in prison and hundreds of previously banned media outlets are now permitted to operate freely.

RSF urged PM Abiy to go further by giving journalists more legislative protection and by turning Ethiopia into a regional press freedom model.

 

… PM Abiy named laureate of the 2019 UNESCO Peace Prize

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was named as laureate of the 2019 edition of the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize for his actions in the region and, in particular, for having been the instigator of a peace agreement between the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and Eritrea.

 PM Abiy speaks during the Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize ceremony

The jury also recognizes PM Abiy’s worthiness for the reforms undertaken to consolidate democracy and social cohesion. Finally, the jury considers this distinction as an encouragement to pursue his commitment to the promotion of a culture of peace in the region and across the African continent.

In 1989, in tribute to President Félix Houphouet-Boigny’s action for peace in the world, 120 countries sponsored a resolution unanimously adopted by UNESCO’s Member States to establish the UNESCO Peace Prize in his name. The Prize is intended to honour living individuals and active public or private institutions or bodies that have made a significant contribution to promoting, seeking, safeguarding or maintaining peace in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations and the UNESCO Constitution.

 

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