AfricaEthiopiaEthiopia in transitionOp/EdPress Freedom

Op:Ed: Support to independent media and media reform crucial for democratic development in Ethiopia

Torbjörn Pettersson, For Addis Standard

Addis Abeba, MAy 03, 2019 – Today, on World Press Freedom Day, we turn our eyes, ears and thoughts to all of those who have fought and continue to fight for press freedom and freedom of expression around the world

Every month approximately 6 journalists are killed for bringing information to the public. The number of journalists and media workers killed while doing their jobs increased in 2018. According to The International Federation of Journalists, 94 journalists and media workers were killed in 2018, an unfortunate increase from 2017. Six of them were women. In some countries there is more dangerous to be a journalist than in others. Promoting the safety of journalists and combating impunity for those who attack them are crucial in any democratic society.

My country Sweden has had press freedom since 1766, firmly laid down in our Constitution. Sweden’s media environment is one of the world’s most open, with a variety of outlets that are generally free from political pressure. But history shows that press freedom is fragile and need people and policies to constantly defend it. And with the social media becoming more and more prominent, the fight for freedom of speech and expression is global.

Let me highlight some milestones in the Swedish history that takes us where we are today, one of the most open and most democratic societies in the world.

The Swedish Freedom of the Press Act (1766) broke ground for the principle of public access to information, which made it legal to publish and read public documents. The principle of public access is still a cornerstone of the Swedish Constitution. The Swedish Press Council (Pressens Opinionsnämnd, PON) was formed in 1916, the oldest of its kind in the world. In 2011 Sweden became the first country in the world to hand over its official Twitter account, @sweden, to its citizens. By letting a new person tweet as @sweden every week, the Curators of Sweden project aim to present Sweden through the mix of people it actually consists of.

Today is the World Freedom Press Day and the main celebration takes place in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia. The overall theme of the day is the role of media in elections and democracy. I cannot think of any better choice of location for this year’s event than Ethiopia. It has not been easy to be a journalist and defend press freedom in Ethiopia However, the conditions for media to play a constructive role in Ethiopia’s development had changed dramatically the last year. During the past months, Ethiopia has embarked on a series of comprehensive political and democratic reforms, also in the media sector. The media law is currently being revised, journalists have been released from prison, media outlets that were previously banned have been allowed to start operating again and every day we see new newspapers and outlets being started. Although challenges of course remain, this development is impressive. Sweden is a firm supporter of these reforms to create a more democratic and prosperous Ethiopia.

Sweden has been engaged in Ethiopia’s development since more than 100 years back. Swedish missionaries were involved in building over 6000 schools in Ethiopia and in 1954, Ethiopia became Sweden’s first partner for long term development cooperation. Sweden is now increasing its commitment in Ethiopia to support the democratic reform process in the country. An independent media that may protect, defend and strengthen press freedom and freedom of expression is of utmost importance in that context.

Earlier this month, the Swedish Embassy together with our partners FOJO Media institute and Nubia media organized a regional seminar bringing in 20 experts from the continent and elsewhere to share their experiences from their countries’ media reforms. This was done as a part of a program to support the media sector which we have been engaged in for the last two years.  Together with our Nordic partner Denmark, we are now designing a long term and institutional program with the purpose of supporting media development in Ethiopia in the midst of its very interesting and challenging change. Let us all do our best to make sure media plays a constructive, uniting and peace full role in this process. AS


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Editor’s Note: Torbjörn Pettersson is Ambassador of Sweden to Ethiopia, AU, IGAD and Djibouti.

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