The African Media Forum organised by the African Media Initiative concluded this week in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
The event brought together prominent journalists, media managers and owners from across the continent. Yet at a time, cases of media rights violations are on the increase in Eastern Africa, press freedom was not on top of the conference agenda.
Instead the gathering’s core focus was on business development, technology innovation and leadership and ethics.
Save for a one-hour side event that dealt with the challenges of press freedom in Africa, the issue was not given the attention it deserves.
Addis Ababa was the perfect venue for the conference if the intention was to pressurise authorities on press freedom.
Just a few kilometres from the venue of the conference, journalists continue to languish in prison on trumped up terrorism charges. 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.
Outside Ethiopia’s borders, its neighbour to the North , Eritrea is one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists.
Of the 28 journalists killed in Africa last year, 18 died in Somalia, Ethiopia’s neighbour to the South East.
Despite progress in security particularly in the capital, Mogadishu, Somalia continues to be the deadliest country for Journalists in Africa. At least seven journalists have been killed this year.
Gag the media
In Kenya, Ethiopia’s neighbour to the South, parliament recently passed a law that aims to gag the media causing not only widespread anger but also panic within the media fraternity that is known for its relative independence.
Across Eastern Africa space is fast shrinking for media practitioners.
According to Press Freedom lobbies, more than 150 journalists from Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan have been forced into exile since 2008.
During the weekend, when the media leaders from across the continent tried to get access to a prison outside Addis Ababa where the journalists are being held, they were allowed into the prison but refused to see the journalists.
Ethiopian journalists Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, Eskinder Nega, Yusuf Getachew, and Solomon Kebede have all been convicted of terrorism offenses.
Two more journalists, Getachew Worku and Million Degnew, were recently taken into police custody for reporting on public corruption.
Eritrean journalists Saleh Idris and Tesfalidet Kidane have been held in Ethiopia since 2006. The Ethiopian government has not heeded calls by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights or the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights to review its overly broad terrorism legislation.
Yet when he took to the podium to give a key-note speech at the conference, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn urged participants to consider building a continental media network.
The Prime Minister stressed the need to have a pan-African media network, run by independent professionals, which could portray Africa in a favourable light on a global scale.
One wonders how such media can thrive unless repressive media laws are repealed and replaced with legislation that conforms to international standards.