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Press Advocates: Obama Should Talk Freedom at G8

  • Ricci Shryock

Demonstrators outside White House before G8 summit in Washington, May 17, 2012

Demonstrators outside White House before G8 summit in Washington, May 17, 2012

Press freedom advocates are calling for President Barack Obama to address limitations on journalists who report on food insecurity when he meets with four African leaders at the G8 Summit on Saturday.

The group is set to discuss solutions to food crises on the continent. But Mohamed Keita, the Africa Advocacy Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said government censorship is part of the problem.

“We believe that such practices harm the domestic and international response to such crises and ultimately undermine the ability of everyone to assist millions starving,” Keita said.

Mr. Obama will hold a working lunch with the presidents of Ghana, Tanzania, and Benin, as well as the prime minister of Ethiopia, during the summit at the Camp David presidential retreat in the U.S.

Keita said Tanzania, Ghana and Benin “are countries where the press is relatively free to operate. They are not working under intense censorship. They are not denied access to sensitive areas.”

But he said the situation in Ethiopia is different. He said the government there has been guilty of hindering reporting on past and present food crises.

“Ethiopia is continually affected by drought and food crises and unfortunately the government prevents journalists access to sensitive areas,” Keita said. “They are prevented from using the word famine when they report about these crises. They are Okule Buli helps her five-year old daughter Jamila sit up in her bed in the Intensive Care Unit of a medical center run by Medecins Sans Frontiers in Kuyera, Ethiopia, 02 Sep 2008 (File photo AFP)

Okule Buli helps her five-year old daughter Jamila sit up in her bed in the Intensive Care Unit of a medical center run by Medecins Sans Frontiers in Kuyera, Ethiopia, 02 Sep 2008 (File photo AFP)

prevented from taking photographs of obviously malnourished children.”

“This has an impact on the ability of aid groups to scramble to raise funds to assist” in a timely manner, he added.

Keita acknowledged Ethiopia has made economic strides in reducing poverty and improving infrastructure, but he said hunger remains a chronic problem. And he said government statistics about food insecurity and hunger cannot be relied upon.

Since 2011, the Ethiopian government has used its sweeping anti-terrorism laws to bring charges against 11 journalists.

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