ETHIOPIAN JOURNALISTS ASSOCIATION FORMED TO DEFEND PRESS FREEDOM

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ethiopian journalist association

Association of Ethipian journalists formed as, Ethiopian Mass Media Professionals Association on 19 June 2020, aiming to defend press freedom of Ethiopian journalists.

The idea of establishing an association of Ethipian journalists was initiated by five journalists who have an interest in forming an independent association that would become a voice for mass media professionals, which had so far been done only by the international human rights community.

According to the press release held on Thursday, June 25, Journalist Elias Meseret who is also correspondent to the Associated Press(AP), based in the capital, had been appointed as the president of the association accompanied by fellow journalists who are assigned different leadership roles.

The government of Ethiopia had been subjected to heavy criticism over the violation of freedom of expression from multiple international human rights institutions for the past couple of decades. In 2015 Human Rights Watch(HRW) and Committee to Protect Journalists(CPJ) reported that Ethiopia was the second country with the highest number of exiled journalists in the world next to Iran.

Following a sweeping political reform in the government two years ago journalists like Eskindir Nega who was imprisoned for more than seven times had been released. And Sisay Agena, an exiled reporter at diaspora focused media Ethiopian Satellite TV (ESAT) had a chance to make a visit home.

On December 1, Ethiopia became a country with no journalists detained for the first time in 14 years. And 260 blocked news and blog websites including diaspora outlets ESAT and Oromia Media Network (OMN) allowed access, promising a new era for the country once considered as a tough place for reporters.

“Things seem better now than before but challenges still exist,” Sisay Sahlu, a founding member of the new association of Ethiopian journalists told Addis Insight.

Reporters had been jailed last year for aligned violations of the controversial Hate Speech and Misinformation Law which was approved by the parliament last year. Human rights advocates and institutions, including the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, expressed their concerns about the law that ‘it has given a space for authorities to violate freedom of expression.’

“The newly established association will stand by the professionals to fight against any form of intimidation and pressure that limits freedom of expression of journalists while performing their professional duty,” said Sisay who is also the secretary of the new association.

Multiple journalist associations had been formed in the century-long history of journalism in Ethiopia but they disbanded shortly.

According to Sisay, ‘most societies formed so far failed to defend the professionals because they were controlled by the government.’

There still exist some associations specific to some fields of journalism such as Ethiopia Sports Journalists Association and the new association is planning to collaborate with the active unions.

The association plans to generate its own financial income from the monthly membership fee of 100 ETB and there are some moves to find assistance from international organizations.

Members will be registered and have an identification card after arranging office facilities and the secretary said that they will have fair shares from the opportunities and challenges the association might face.