Why We Still Need World Press Freedom Day

    by Jillian C. York
    May 3, 2013
    Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef was recently interrogated for mocking President Morsi. Photo by Hossam Hamalawy. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0.

    Eskinder Nega is an Ethiopian journalist and blogger who, in July 2012, was convicted under the country’s broad anti-terrorism law and sentenced to 18 years in prison for exercising his right to free expression.  Nega’s conviction has been roundly condemned: by the United Nations, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and numerous other rights groups.

    An image from the Electronic Frontier Foundation's "Free Eskinder" campaign

    An image from the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s “Free Eskinder” campaign.

    "Action must encompass both traditional media and the digital world, where news is increasingly produced and consumed." - UN statement.

    Ethiopia, however, has ignored their calls, and Thursday, just one day before the world observes World Press Freedom Day (Friday, May 3), Nega’s appeal was denied in a move that CPJ called “the hallmark of a regime fearful of the opinions of its citizens.”  At least six Ethiopian journalists remain in prison, placing the country among the world’s top jailers of journalists along with Iran, Eritrea, Turkey, Syria, and Azerbaijan, among others.  Last year, 232 journalists in total were imprisoned around the world, representing a marked decline in press freedom.



    These facts are precisely why, 20 years since its inception, World Press Freedom Day remains so important.  While numerous countries host their own events to mark the occasion, an official UN event that will focus on securing freedom of expression in all media is being held in Costa Rica.  In recent years, the UN has begun to recognize the importance of promoting a free and open Internet, and fighting for the rights not just of professional journalists, but of bloggers and other netizens as well.  In a recent statement from the UN marking the occasion, one passage makes clear its focus on digital rights:

    “Action must encompass both traditional media and the digital world, where news is increasingly produced and consumed. Bloggers, citizen reporters and social media producers, as well as their sources, face increasing threats to their safety. In addition to physical dangers, they are being targeted with psychological and emotional violence through cyber-attacks, data breaches, intimidation, undue surveillance and invasions of privacy.”

    To ensure that netizens are looped into the celebrations, the UN has even promoted hashtags — #wpfd and #pressfreedom — for following along from home.


    A 2011 image by Nina Haghighi shows the world according to press freedom rankings Creative Commons: BY-ND 2.0.

    A 2011 image by Nina Haghighi shows the world according to press freedom rankings. Creative Commons: BY-ND 2.0.


    Restrictions on the press are not merely the domain of repressive regimes.  As Index on Censorship points out, press freedom is weak or in decline across too many EU member states including the U.K., where a new press regulation system threatens to impose damages on those not joining a “voluntary” regulator, and Greece, where in 2012 a journalist was prosecuted for revealing the names of fellow countrymen with Swiss bank accounts.

    In Egypt, where the 2011 uprising allowed for greater freedoms for the press, recent developments — the closure of Egypt Independent, eulogized here, and the recent interrogations of television satirist Bassem Youssef and a stand-up comic on his show, “El-Bernameg” — demonstrate how fragile those freedoms are.

    And although Costa Rica stands out among Latin American countries as a beacon of free expression, across the region press freedom seems to be on the decline, with only three countries ranking “free” in Freedom House’s annual report.

    While for the most part the evidence points to a press in decline, a handful of countries — Tunisia and Burma among them — have made improvements over the past few years.

    Main image of Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef by Hossam Hamalawy and used with Creative Commons license. 

    Jillian C. York is the director of International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She writes regularly about free expression, politics, and the Internet, with particular focus on the Arab world. She is on the Board of Directors of Global Voices Online, and has written for a variety of publications, including Al Jazeera, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Foreign Policy, and Bloomberg.

    Tagged: costa rica ethiopia free press united nations world press freedom day

    8 responses to “Why We Still Need World Press Freedom Day”

    1. Ras Mitat says:

      Eskinder Nega might have got some sympathy from average Ethiopian, if he ever wrote something other than ethnic politics. Everyone knows he’ll be pardoned and released the minute he signs an apology, just like last time.

      • ettm says:

        Hello Ras,
        What ethnic politics are you talking about. Ethnic politics was state policy already; the late-Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and his comrades needed to establish ethnicity as a political tool or else they cannot remain in power because they come from a minority tribe [5.4% of 84 million pop]. Eskinder wrote that it is not fair that a tiny group should remain in power for 22 years and counting. Remember the late-PM allowed somewhat “free and fair elections in 2005 to impress donors only to find out voters had a mind of their own; he did not like what he saw and so he simply refused to abide by the results and henceforth forbade any opposition thus returning the country to the days of Mengistu’s one-party rule. Eskinder was jailed because he wrote on issues that worried many Ethiopians concerning the path the country is taking. By the way, are you still at the consulate or have you moved on?

        • Ras Mitat says:

          Typical, accuse anyone who disagrees with opposition ethnic politics as being a government spy…Ethiopians are tired of it. No Western democracy will tolerate an opposition party with an armed wing, i.e., Ginbot 7, reason Eskinder went to jail.

          That’s why U.S. Secretary Susan Rice on live TV called Ethiopian opposition groups, “Fools!” God bless her for being honest.

          • ettm says:

            There we go again. You just lied and you did not even know. What “ethnic politics” are you talking about? “Ethnic politics” is the state policy in case you are not aware of. I know you are desperate when you quote Susan Rice. Tear up the memo from the consulate and think for yourself.

            • Ras Mitat says:

              You’ve something against Susan Rice for supporting Ethiopia’s late leader? Are all these other leaders “lying” too?

              BARAK OBAMA: “Prime Minister Meles deserves recognition for his lifelong contribution to Ethiopia’s development, particularly his unyielding commitment to Ethiopia’s poor.”

              BILL GATES: “Meles Zenawi was a visionary leader who brought real benefits to Ethiopia’s poor.” Gates even flew in for funeral.

              DAVID CAMERON: “His personal contribution to Ethiopia’s development, in particular by lifting millions of Ethiopians out of poverty, has set an example for the region.”

              TONY BLAIR: “He was a hugely significant figure in
              Ethiopia’s history, in particular helping guide his country from extreme poverty to an era of economic growth and development.”

              GORDON BROWN: “Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world, made more progress in education, health and economic development under his leadership than at any time in its history and it is a tragedy for the Ethiopian people that they have lost a committed leader and a champion of children.

              BAN KI-MOON: “Meles would be remembered for his exceptional leadership and advocacy on African issues within and outside the continent and for overseeing his country’s economic development.”

              JOSEPH E. STIGLITZ, Nobel laureate in economics and former World Bank Chief Economist: “Meles Zenawi showed that, with the right policies in place, even a poor African country could experience sustained economic growth.”

              Class dismissed!

            • ettm says:

              Tony Blair praised Mubarak as “immensely courageous and a force for good.” He later distanced himself from Meles [may be you are not aware of that]. Does Tony’s statement mean Mubarak was good? Susan Rice praised Mugabe; does it mean Mugabe is good? No, not by a long shot. You need to differentiate between political and ethical statements. Or were you expecting heads of government would eulogize the late Prime Minister Meles as an evil tyrant and make fools of themselves? I was not expecting you would not know the differences. I told you to stop copying onto the Internet responses handed to you by the consulate and to think for yourself. Please make sure to change your alias now that every one knows who you are.

            • Ras Mitat says:

              So now, not only do you fan the flames of ethnic politics, you’re also a misogynist who hates women?

              You’re quoting racist White Republican websites to attack Susan Rice, who only praised Mugabe in her 1990 college dissertation at Oxford, which concerned Mugabe’s role in 1979-1980 peaceful transfer of power from White rule. I know you’re not used to people checking your facts, which is evident after seeing your half-truths posted on other sites as well.

              Must be really lonely living on your island of hate.

            • ettm says:

              Nice try.

  • Who We Are

    MediaShift is the premier destination for insight and analysis at the intersection of media and technology. The MediaShift network includes MediaShift, EducationShift, MetricShift and Idea Lab, as well as workshops and weekend hackathons, email newsletters, a weekly podcast and a series of DigitalEd online trainings.

    About MediaShift »
    Contact us »
    Sponsor MediaShift »
    MediaShift Newsletters »

    Follow us on Social Media