By Eugene Brown Agyei and Nadia Shiyyab
The 2019 edition of the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day celebrations has opened in Addis Ababa with over 2000 registered participants from all over the world.
The opening ceremony is to mark the 3-day event which began on Wednesday, May 1, with an Academic Conference on the safety of journalists. The main event of the World Press Freedom Day is marked May 3 every year to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.
This year’s celebration is marked by a theme that many participants claim is just apt for the moment - “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation”.
From media practitioners to journalism students and other media stakeholders, participants have gathered to celebrate press freedom and the freedom of expression in the world and in this particular edition, to also discuss issues of media and elections in an era of serious issues like fake news.
Addressing the large crowd at the ceremony, Ethiopia’s president, H.E Sahle-Work Zewde, also doubled as the Guest of Honour acknowledged how far her country has come in terms of press freedom.
“For the past one year only, various reform efforts have been undertaken in expanding freedoms of information to ensuring the right to freedom of expression in Ethiopia,” she said.
Until last year, the host country, Ethiopia, had ranked very low in the World Press Freedom Index but has since then made a significant move to the top.
“We all know that our track record in the past was far from reassuring in this regard. That is why we used to rank poorly on the World Press Freedom Index,” the Ethiopian president said. “However, there have been major steps taken to make significant improvement for the past one year including the release of old activist and journalist in detention, the lifting of ban on some media outlets and the revision of some of the ill-fitting media laws.”
She also expressed her joy about UNESCO’s decision in allowing her country to host this year’s event. According to her, it shows how hard they are working towards the right to freedom of expression.
In an opening address, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Dr. Vera Songwe, emphasized the need for more women journalists. Other dignitaries who were at the ceremony included the UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Honourable Jeremy Hunt and the Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission, H.E Thomas Kwesi Quartey who encouraged the media to play a key role in electoral democracy.
Organizers say this year’s event: The African Union, The Government of Ethiopia and UNESCO have hosted a record-breaking number of attendees as compared to previous events. The ceremony was at the African Union headquarters.