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In the World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) that was marked on Thursday May 3 at the new African Union hall, Shimeles Kemal, State Minister of the Government Communication Affairs Office expressed confidence that the country’s freedom of expression has been built on a strong foundation while private publishers voiced concerns that censorship is looming in the country.
Ato Shimeles, said that Ethiopia stands third in Africa for guaranteeing the right to information.
“Our democracy is initiated, drafted, approved and implemented by the free will of the government. It is not donor driven. That is simply because democracy is the cornerstone for the country’s development,” Shimeles said. He added, “Freedom of expression is not absolute. It has limitation. In this regard, there is confusion on the concept of media freedom.”
Amare Aregawi, General Manager of the private newspaper Reporter argued that freedom of expression in Ethiopia is facing a more serious challenge than ever before. In the Ethiopian constitution, freedom of the Mass Media is guaranteed and censorship in any form is prohibited. Any administration measures that impair freedom of the mass media are also strictly forbidden in the constitution. “Despite this clear and imposing constitutional right,” Amare stressed, “the recent print standard contractual document sent to the publishers by the Berhanena Selam Printing Enterprise tries to enforce undue burden on the publishers demanding that they not print articles that transgress laws of the land. We firmly believe that the printer lacks both the mandate and the technical capacity to verify that the materials intended for publication comply with or violate the thousands legislations enacted by the lawmakers.”
The marking of WPFD began in 1991 when UNESCO and the United Nations department of Public Information (DPI); in the framework of a conference that took place in Windhoek, Namibia. In UNESCO’s media development indicators, ‘free media transforms societies by enlightening the decision making process with information, and thus empowering individuals to take control of their destinies. In this context, media freedom plays a crucial role in the transformation of society by reshaping its political, economic and social aspects.’
In connection to this day the UN Secretary-General, Ban ki-Moon and UNESCO Director-General, Ms Irina Bokova said in a joint message that Media freedom entails the choice to hold opinions and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers. “Media freedom also faces severe pressures across the world. Last year UNESCO condemned the killing of 62 journalists who died as a result of their work. These journalists must not be forgotten and these crimes should not remain unpunished,” stated their joint message.
This WPFD was marked under the theme of “New Voices: Media Freedom Helping to Transform Societies”. In the discussion that was held at the AU the pressures that Ethiopian journalists face were raised. The arrest of the three journalists Wubishet Taye, Riyot Alemu and Eskinder Nega was raised as a case in point for the challenges of journalists in the country.