Presentation at the Helsinki UNESCO World Press Freedom Conference 2016 about Ethiopian Digital Media



By Tedla D.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Press Freedom Day 2016 was held in the Finlandia Hall, Helsinki, Finland from May 3-4, 2016 organized in partnership with the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the support of some 50 civil society and media organizations.

The event was attended by many hundreds of journalists, officials, academics and organisations, who came from all over the world.

 The opening remarks of the event were made by Irina Bokova, Director‐General, UNESCO, Juha Sipilä, Prime Minister, Republic of Finland and Jussi Pajunen, Mayor, City of Helsinki respectively.
The officials said the event marked the 250th anniversary of the world’s first freedom of expression and freedom of information legislation, promulgated by modern-day Finland and Sweden in 1766, and the 25th anniversary of the UNESCO Windhoek Declaration adopted in the capital of Namibia in 1991, which was at the origin of World Press Freedom Day.

UNESCO’s Director-General  said  “I call today on every Government, to respond to calls for information on judicial follow-up. […] We must defend fundamental freedoms both offline and online. UNESCO is working to support the Internet as rights-based, open, accessible and multi-stakeholder driven.”

Over 1100 attended the conference in Helsinki, which took place  alongside another one hundred World Press Freedom Day events around the world. There were two Ethiopian photojournalists whose works were displayed in the gallery and an exhibition of works by 10 young photojournalists trained by the regional project UNESCO.

Renowned British journalist and CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour, who is also UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassador for Freedom of Expression and Journalist Safety, moderated a session on “protecting your rights: surveillance overreach, data protection, and online censorship.”

Alongside the main Conference, UNESCO and the UNESCO Chair at University of Gothenburg in collaboration with IAMCR, University of Sheffield, University of Helsinki and University of Tampere also organised a two-day Research Conference on Safety of Journalists during the celebrations of World Press Freedom Day in Helsinki Finland, on 3 and 4 May 2016.

UNESCO stated that the call for papers and posters attracted almost 60 abstracts by the deadline in December 2015 ( full call for papers here) out of which 17 papers and 14 posters were selected to be presented at the conference. One of the academic posters selected for the event was the presentation by this author.

I presented an academic poster entitled “DIGITAL MEDIA AND ITS PREDICAMENTS: ONLINE MEDIA CONTRIBUTORS AND ASPIRANTS IN ETHIOPIA“, along with several other academic presenters, who came from all over the world as can be read HERE.




My research poster presentation discussed the theoretical framework used in the study such as digital security literature from Henrichsen et al (2015)  and digital activism theories such as New Social Movements model (NSMs)drawn from Karatzogianni (2006) drawing on McAdam, McCarthy and Zald (1996) are consulted.

I also discussed the trajectory of Ethiopian digital media and activism from the introduction of the internet in Ethiopia in 1993 to the first Ethiopian/focused website CyberEthiopia, created and launched by Kitaw Yayehyirad in Switzerland up to present day online activists and bloggers such as Zone 9 Bloggers.

I gave a background of at least two clusters of bloggers, one public and another anonymous, Zone 9 Bloggers and De Birhan Blog‘s team, who were charged with online related activities and applying for a digital security course. But, I also mentioned several cases, where Ethiopian digital activists, bloggers and journalists or netizens, both based in Ethiopia and in the Diaspora, have been charged for their online activities especially since 2011.

The research used methods such as archival and documentary analysis, discourse analysis as per Norman Fairclogh’s 1980 model and semi-structured interviews at least 15 detained and released digital bloggers and activists, digital security trainers and academic and netizens. The research questions broached what is the current state of digital activism/reporting in Ethiopia is,  the level understanding of digital security among activists and the consequences of the insecurity and how  activists do effective digital activism while remaining digitally secure.

The extended abstract of the research was already presented yesterday to a wide ranging audience in Veranda 4, Finlandia Hall, Helsinki. I have also explained about the state of digital media and activism  and press freedom in general to a group of international academics, rights activists, journalists and officials of international institutions.

I have also explained to many people about my co-blogger Zelalem Workagegnehu, who will be spending his 667 day in an Ethiopian prison.

The full paper including the findings of the research will be soon published in an international academic journal.