“Media is the soul and flesh of democracy, therefore it is easy to imagine that Ethiopia has never had a strong, independent media,” Befekadu Hailu says.

JOHANNESBURG (Wits Journalism)― The golden thread running through the annual Carlos Cardoso Memorial Lecture was the vital role journalism plays in upholding and promoting democratic societies.

Vice-Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand, Professor Tawana Kupe, opened the memorial lecture held at the 14th African Investigative Journalism Conference at Wits University on Tuesday, October 30. He described Cardoso, the Mozambican journalist killed in the year 2000 while investigating corruption, as “a journalist of brave independent journalism”.

Professor Kupe said investigative journalism is a powerful tool for defending democracy when it’s under attack and encouraged the audience to ensure that investigative journalism grows. “Investigative journalism is the lifeblood of society,” he said.

Professor Kupe opened the floor for Ethiopian writer, blogger and activist, Befekadu Hailu Techane, who started his address by saying he had received authorization from the Ethiopian government to address attendees at the lecture.

The bleak picture he painted of the lack of press freedom throughout Ethiopia’s history made it clear why getting authorization to deliver the lecture would have been necessary for him. “Media is the soul and flesh of democracy, therefore it is easy to imagine that Ethiopia has never had a strong, independent media,” Befekadu said.

He made special mention of the way in which journalists in Ethiopia have been jailed in the past because they dared to break the silence and defy government prescription of what should be published.

Befekadu, who has been jailed four times, shared a cell with renowned Ethiopian journalist, Eskinder Nega. This was Befekadu’s fourth time and Eskinder’s ninth time behind bars. During a previous jail sentence he was locked up with his pregnant wife, Serkalem Fasil, who had to give birth in jail.

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