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For Africa Media Leaders, Press Freedom Isn't Top Concern

  • Marthe van der Wolf

Mourners carry the body of Somali journalist Mohamed Mohamud who was killed after being shot six times by gunmen, Oct. 27, 2013.

Mourners carry the body of Somali journalist Mohamed Mohamud who was killed after being shot six times by gunmen, Oct. 27, 2013.

African media leaders concluded a three-day conference in Ethiopia Friday, where press freedom was not on top of the conference agenda, even though many journalists on the continent face restrictions and repression.

Conference organizers said their core focus was on business development, technology innovation, and leadership and ethics. They believe discussions on the business side of media will automatically result in debates on press freedom.

Alison Bethel of the International Press Institute finds it worrisome that the African Media Leaders Forum did not prioritize the issue of press freedom.

“There needs to be more time dedicated to the issue," she said, "because besides from business models and licensing and other things that are crucial to the media here, press freedom also is a very, very important part of doing business.”

There was a one-hour side event organized on the practices and challenges of press freedom in Africa. Journalists from different countries shared their experiences of being harassed, detained and threatened for trying to do their job.

The Committee to Protect Journalists urged the media leaders to address repression in Ethiopia, where the conference is being held. Last week, two Ethiopian journalists were detained for about six days without charges after reporting on local corruption.

More than 75 media publications have been closed in Ethiopia in the past 20 years and seven journalists are currently imprisoned on charges of terrorism.

Amare Aregwi, managing editor of Ethiopia’s largest English newspaper, The Reporter, says his media colleagues on the continent can also play a role in improving press freedom in Ethiopia:

“They can advise you, share their experiences and train you in such things," Aregwi said. "Sometimes, you don’t find people or the government being ready to listen. On the other side also, some of the international media enjoy criticizing and ridiculing rather than helping.”

Twenty-eight journalists died on the African continent in 2012, with Somalia being the deadliest country. Twelve African countries have passed freedom of information bills, but they include countries such as Ethiopia and Uganda, which are regularly accused of cracking down on media practitioners.

The Doha Center for Media Freedom reported that more than 150 journalists from Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan have been forced into exile since 2008.

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