Ethiopia takes part in first Global Conference on Media Freedom

12 Jul 2019

On 10thand 11th July, London hosted government ministers and officials, the diplomatic community, journalists, academics and members of civil society from around the world, in the first-of-its-kind Global Conference on Media Freedom, organised by the UK and Canadian governments. Ethiopia was represented by Ambassador Fesseha Shawel and Press Secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office, Billene Seyoum.

Billene Seyoum, Press Secretary to Prime Minister Abiy, is welcomed to the conference by Harriet Baldwin MP, Minister of State for Africa and International Development

The conference examined the challenges facing media freedom and the opportunities that can create a safer environment for journalists.

On the first day of the conference, UK Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP, delivered a keynote speech arguing that media freedom is “a universal cause” and announcing that the UK will commit £18 million to improving media freedom across the world. The new Global Media Defence Fund – to be administered by UNESCO – will support, train and provide legal support for journalists in the most dangerous parts of the world.

The Foreign Secretary said, “Today we are joined by delegations from over 120 countries, including 60 ministers, and more than 1,500 journalists, academics and campaigners…never before have so many countries come together in this cause.

And today we send a strong message that media freedom is not a Western but a universal value…. At its best, a free media both protects society from the abuse of power and helps to release the full potential of a country.”

He argued that “the strongest safeguard against the dark side of power is accountability and scrutiny – and few institutions fulfil that role more effectively than a free media.”

The announcement was part of a number of measures to help protect journalists around the world including the High Level Legal Panel on Media Freedom, a group of the world’s top legal minds that will work with governments and other partners to advise on legal measures that will allow journalists to do their jobs freely and hold those in power to account.

…Ethiopia to benefit from £15 million fund to promote media freedom

A new UK aid package of up to £15 million that will help promote media freedom in developing countries around the world, was also announced by International Development Minister Harriet Baldwin MP.

One programme will look at creative ways for independent media outlets in countries such as Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Sierra Leone to develop better business models, by helping them, for example, to cut production costs and find new funding streams.

Another will encourage community groups and journalists to work together to develop strong, independent media outlets in countries, where historically journalists have enjoyed less freedom.

International Development Minister Harriett Baldwin said, “At a time when journalists are attacked in record numbers, and too many independent media organisations are collapsing or threatened by political interests, today’s aid package could not be more crucial.

UK aid will help media experts, charities, the private sector and academics, to pioneer bold new approaches to keeping media outlets free and independent,  and give them the power to report the truth.

This is in everyone’s interests. If people are able to hold their governments to account using reliable information, they can better understand their rights and demand better services, such as healthcare and education.”

This new support will build on DFID’s existing work to protect media freedom in developing countries.

…Ethiopia commended for media freedom

Speaking at the plenary session on the second day of the conference, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay commended the “dramatic and courageous reforms” that have taken place in Ethiopia to ensure media freedom over the last year.

Audrey Azoulay, Director General, UNESCO at the Global Conference for Media Freedom in London, 11 July 2019.

In May, the 26thWorld Press Freedom Day (WPFD) took place in Addis Ababa and was heralded as a reflection of the current social and political transformations in Ethiopia. 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.

Over the last year, Ethiopia has made spectacular progress in terms of press freedom. Many journalists and bloggers have been released from prison and hundreds of previously banned media outlets are now permitted to operate freely.

***

On the side-lines of the conference, Prime Minister Abiy’s Press Secretary Billene Seyoum held bilateral meetings with various officials.

With Matt Tee, CEO of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), the independent regulator of most of the UK’s newspapers and magazines, the two exchanged views on media freedom and regulations and the need to further enhance cooperation between media regulatory bodies in Ethiopia and the UK.

With German State Minister, Michelle Müntefering, the two discussed various issues including Ethiopia’s commitment to the democratisation process, media freedom, ethical journalism, and Germany’s support for the ongoing changes in Ethiopia.

***

At the conclusion of the two-day conference, representatives of governments around the world signed a pledge to work together to protect media freedom.

This media freedom global pledge commits those governments that sign it to:

  • speak out and take action together, through a Media Freedom Coalition
  • harness the power of diplomatic networks, through a new Media Freedom Contact Group
  • reinforce international initiatives to champion media freedom
  • meet annually to renew our commitments and to address emerging threats and opportunities

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