World Press Freedom Day: Global leaders fault corrupt nations, dictators


Participants at the World Press Freedom summit at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia ...
Participants at the World Press Freedom summit at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on May 2, 2019. Photo/COURTESY

Leaders from around the world have called on governments to defend the rights of journalists in their quest to fight against corruption and to achieve authentic democracy.

During the opening ceremony of the 26th World Press Freedom Day celebrations in Ethiopia, corruption and authoritative rule were cited as some of the greatest challenges facing journalists.

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“Corruption is one of the biggest sources of anger in many countries. But far more effective than the crackdowns regularly launched by authoritarian regimes is the sunlight of transparency – just witness the striking overlap between the least corrupt countries in global indices and those with the freest media,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said.

“Indeed no fewer than seven of the top ten cleanest nations in the world, as ranked by Transparency International, are also in the top ten for Press Freedom, ” he added.

In his speech, Mr. Hunt cited the late Nelson Mandela on freedom of the Press being the only channel to ‘temper the appetite of any government to amass power at the expense of the citizen.

“It is only such a free press that can have the capacity to relentlessly expose excesses and corruption,” his quoted the late South African anti-apartheid icon.

He further lauded Ethiopia for rising 40 places up in the World Press Freedom Index, faster than any other country has in the past.

According to Mr. Hunt, this is attributed to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s leadership where the new government transformed political discourse by freeing prisoners and allowing the creation of hundreds of websites, blogs and newspapers.

Ethiopia released more than 6,000 prisoners last year, including some high-profile journalists and opposition leaders. They were charged with a variety of offences, including terrorism.
Ethiopia released more than 6,000 prisoners last year, including some high-profile journalists and opposition leaders. They were charged with a variety of offences, including terrorism. PHOTO/COURTESY

 

Ethiopian Prime Minister Ahmed also said media entities that had been charged under the anti-terrorism laws were given amnesty while legislative and institutional reforms are underway to address past grievances linked to mass media, access to information and computer crimes.

STOPPING JOURNALISTS FROM REPORTING

The British Foreign Secretary further recognised efforts of journalists such as Patrick Gathara (Kenya), Charles Onyango-Obbo (Uganda), the late Mohammed Amin (Kenya), Godfrey Mwampembwa aka Gado (Tanzania), Anas Aremeyaw Anas (Ghana) and Jonatha Zapiro (South Africa) for their ‘courageous’ investigations and commentaries.

“In a world where 99 journalists were killed last year – and another 348 locked up by governments – some of the brightest spots are perhaps where some would least expect: right here in Africa,” he said.

Mr. Hunt maintained that the argument that a free Press is a ‘luxury’ misconstrues the role that journalists play in a society.

“Stopping journalists from reporting a problem does not make it go away…In February, The Citizen in Dar-es-Salaam reported a decline in the value of the Tanzanian shilling.

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“How did the Government of Tanzania respond? By forcing the newspaper to close for a week. This might have helped the Government to vent its frustration, but it did nothing to revalue the shilling,” he said.

According to African Union (AU) Deputy Chairperson Kwesi Quartey, it is no longer business as usual for dictators on the continent as journalists risk their lives every day to tell their story. 

Former Presidents Bashir, Mugabe, Wade and Compaore. Photos/COURTESY

FALL OF OMAR AL BASHIR 

He told participants at the World Press Freedom Day summit that: “Because of the power of your pen, dictators continue to quake in their boots.”

His statement comes almost two weeks after Sudan leader Omar al-Bashir was toppled from power by the military after nearly 30 years of rule.

On her part, President of Ethiopia Sahle-Work Zewde said social media has dramatically transformed the media landscape in the world and Ethiopia is no exception.

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Ms. Zewde who previously served as Ethiopia’s Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, noted that though there is no journalist in jail in Ethiopia, she knows what it is like to have a country at the bottom of the World Press Freedom Index.

She called for dialogue on how to confront the challenge of the impact of social media without affecting basic human rights.

In a statement released on Thursday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said no democracy is complete without access to transparent and reliable information.

“A free Press is essential for peace, justice, sustainable development and human rights. We must all defend the rights of journalists, whose efforts help us build a better world for all,” he said.

Over 2000 journalists from around the world are in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for the World Press Freedom Day summit whose theme is ‘Media for Democracy, Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation’.

Also ReadJournalists protest in Khartoum over crackdown of press freedoms

JAILED JOURNALISTS WIN PRIZE

FILE PHOTO: Detained Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo arrive at Insein court in Yangon, Myanmar, Aug. 27, 2018. REUTERS/Ann Wang/File Photo

It is commemorated every year on May 3, a day that the UN General Assembly set in 1993, following the recommendation of the 26th session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991.

According to UNESCO, it is a day to celebrate the fundamental principles of Press freedom, assess the state of Press freedom around the world, defend the media from attacks on their independence and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

This year, Myanmar journalists Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone received the the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in absentia as they are still imprisoned.

Also Read: Myanmar’s top court rejects final appeal by jailed Reuters journalists

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