KeDitu WeDeMaatu!

July 14, 2008 at 10:01 am 9 comments

On the eve of election 2005, Radio Fana prepared a discussion-forum to all private print media owners and stakeholders, entitled “Ethiopia’s press media: Keyet, Wedet”?!.

The forum was open to anyone interested to participate, through phone call or in person, to question or answer or comment, airing Live for more than 2 hrs for about 4 Sunday mornings.

Although the discussion was conducted in a rare democratic fashion: granting anonymity to callers, ample time for replies/repliers, and fair opportunity to all; most of the private printed media owners who seem to have the Opposition’s interest at heart refused to participate. The reason, given through either phone calls, letters or rumors, ranged from questioning the logic in Radio Fana’s (“a mouth-piece of the government’s”) role of moderator for a forum on press-freedom, to the legitimacy of FM radio stations in Ethiopia, to other ridiculous-sounding comments one observer said were a “yeNaate meQeNet aDenaQefegn” kind of excuses from people who lacked the intellectual and professional confidence in their ability to face, and survive, the heat! A notion I found pretty convincing when considering how embarassingly crude & unprofessional most of the articles found on private [and sometimes government] newspapers were. Addis Admass, Fortune, Capital and Reporter seem to be the only exceptions out of the hundreds of privately-owned Gazettes that mushroomed pre-Mircha 97.

If, infact, memory serves me right, the only member of the private press who faithfully participated in both the phone and in-person discussions all throughout the month was Zerihun Teshome: Managing Director of Birhan Printing & Advertising Agency, editor to the then twice-weekly newspaper “Iftin” and spouse to Voice of America Amharic Desk’s ex-member Mimi Sebhatu. A woman who seems to exhibit the same fearlessness, intelligence and eloquence her husband is known for, from what I observed on ETV yesterday afternoon.

Inspite of a rumor that the couple eat out of the government’s hand, Zerihun’s position on Ethiopia’s press freedom wasn’t one of defending the ruling party. Far from it! He admitted there were problems, problems that even his newspaper with its reputation of “anti-opposition publication”, goes through everyday. But believed “a wise boy cries holding onto what was given him”. That democracy was a process, a process of growth, and that the private press should assist in this growth instead of (from what he observed the likes of “TOmaar”, “TObia” and “Menelik” doing for the last 14 years) behaving like a man who keeps taking a “seBez” off the roof of his “GoJo bet”* every morning.

This prophesy seems to have come true! Ethiopia’s legislative organ has approved a controversial Mass Media and Freedom of Information Proclamation, despite the outcry within and outside Parliament on July 1, 2008. A day MP Bulcha Demekssa of OFDM reportedly called “the darkest… for the press industry.”

I guess a Congratulations is in order: To the dumb assholes who helped the government take from the little this country had in the way of freedom of speech!! Hope they are happy now!

* a roof made of long-stemmed grass

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Guess what? Take it somewhere else!

9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Winta  |  July 14, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    Okey here are some of my disagreements…

    1.The fact that Mimi Sebhatu is afearless journalist. I think what she does is dispeakable and unprofessional. Do you know how many programs the radio station has to get rid of just to give her longer air time for her sided political propaganda?…How much money does she pay for the station ?…Nothing! …What does that tell you? ..She is just another political joke meant to act like there is a freedom of press in the country.
    It just breaks my heart to see people starving to pay taxes to educate people like her. These are some of the things that makes EPRDF a more scarier dictatorship.

    2. I think freedoom is not something to be given to. Everyone is entitled to the right to speak and read and talk anything they want. Iftin can not be an example of a private press….infact, that makes me laugh. Check out who the editor in cheif is …Its just funny.

    3. I agree the private press in Ethiopia is polarized. But I do not think the fact that they took part in Fana´s discussion or not matters. Believe me, it wouldn´t have brought any sort of change in amending the law. Check out when this discussions were started ang how much of the ideas of the private press are included in the law.
    Ene yemigermegn ..its not the fact that they do what they do. Its the way they under estimate ppl´s intellegence to understand how it works…Please give us a break !

  • 2. abesheet  |  July 15, 2008 at 6:52 am

    Most of what you are saying is right, winta, as a rule. But both you and I know “the rule” doesn’t apply to most African countries. So we should neither expect it nor be very surprised (true, I get my heart broken every time I turn on ETV, the same reason why “gunfan” seems to take me more time to recover from than used to and i have to have more than my share of “Rhodos tea” these past few days. It’s as if those people are being dumber than usually to offend me). Yet i’d like to clarify my stand on some of them.

    Mimi Sebhatu ain’t fearless!
    I believe what sets a journalist apart is his determination to speak the truth, the way s/he saw it! This woman lost her job with Voice of America’s Amharic desk because she spoke her truth knowing full well that it wasn’t the way she was meant to tell it, and that it would cost her dearly. If this was a “truth” against the government, she’d have been hailed as a hero and have heroic welcome when she goes to america. I’m not saying her truth, just because it has a “teGadrot”, is the ultimate truth (but then truth is a very relative term, isn’t it?, especially when it comes to politics). Unless we are saying the only truth out there is the truth that speaks against the government BEDEFENAW and EVERYTIME (i.e. Voice of America Amharic Desk’s truth), then that makes her brave; if not saintly. The fearlessness she exhibited on the discussion on ETV the other day may have been the fearlessness of a “getawan yetemamenech beG” ;). But I kindda liked the clarity with which she spoke against the new law, not denying anything but trying to compromise between the two extremes.

    Regarding the radio program air time thing you mentioned, I didn’t know that and found it interesting (I can only listen to radios in the evening). It sounds like a reward to me. Or the government trying to make sure he’s got all the “safe” ones around. Like Addis Admass for example. It’s been speaking against both the opposition party and the government and it’s still around. Still, you don’t hear anybody accuse Nebiy Mekonnen as being bought by the government or being an “opposition party” affe Qelate. Why can’t others learn from him?!

    I think freedoom is not something to be given to. Everyone is entitled to the right to speak and read and talk anything they want.

    I don’t think that’s exactly true, dear. A pedophile may have the right to write a detailed memoir on his sick exploits, in the privacy of his own home, and under lock and key. But he can’t expect to go unpunished if he wants to publish it. Same is true with private news papers who go about publishing “truths” in a way that would create “qursho” between people living in peace henceforth. We simply can’t afford that. Neither Ethiopia, nor “democratic” America! But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong either. The term, I believe, is “responsible journalism”. Some argue against it, saying if a news article (a journalist’s truth, that is) can create bloodshed b/n people, let it!! The only thing a journalist is responsible for is his profession and [his] truth, etc etc. I beg to differ. As I’m sure you would too, considering the stakes. Still, a journalist (or a press media) shouldn’t cater to the needs of a particular part/y or body of people. I know it’s confusing! Who is to say what should be and what shouldn’t be reported, right? Which is why I ain’t gonne be a journalist. Imagine all the pain we would have been spared if many that’s been involved in the press business thought like me :).

    Iftin can not be an example of a private press….infact, that makes me laugh. Check out who the editor in cheif is …Its just funny.

    Unless the criteria for being an “example” of a private press is speaking against the government, Iftin can only assumed to be a private press. It’s owned privately and run by a man who isn’t (atleast officially) involved in politics. That doesn’t, ofcourse, mean the man is expected not to have any biases or affinities. Ofcourse, I know what you mean. Even they didn’t deny they weren’t big on the opposition party (which was another word for “Kinjit” really) and were tired of all the fabricated news anti-government presses were presenting as truth. Regrettablly, they may have been trying to fight fire with fire! But we can’t simply call the anti-government presses “private” and then say all those who don’t have butterflies in their stomach for oppositions are “governmental”. That would be totally unfair, and make us sound as if we have our own [dark] agenda when using them labels.

    By the way, I used to read Iftin often and have even contributed an article once, which got printed, knowing full well they weren’t “fair and balanced”. Fortunately, I’m one of those Ethiopians who can tell between a fictional news and a real news, or atleast a news with an agenda behind it. Why did I read it, then? Because you can find what the opposition is trying to hide in it (which i felt we were entitlted to as well, even if those “free” private presses we mentioned earlier would guard it with their & your reputation 😉 ). And the diversion was welcome. Not to mention contributors, like Hama Tuma, who pleaded with the reader to consider the grey area. That things don’t have to be [only] black and white as the opposition and government seem to make them sound, etc etc.

    I agree the private press in Ethiopia is polarized. But I do not think the fact that they took part in Fana´s discussion or not matters. Believe me, it wouldn´t have brought any sort of change in amending the law. Check out when this discussions were started ang how much of the ideas of the private press are included in the law.

    Don’t you think that’s a bit presumptuous of you?! Deciding what the result would be before it even started?! Rather like Kinjit’s claim that it would win the election and the government would rig it. Such presumptions, however based on truth, aren’t encouraged in the so called democratic world. They destroy any chance a country/a person/an institution may have in the way of improvement!

    What’s more, the discussion wasn’t about the new law that was passed on July 1st this year. It was about what the press media was contributing to the democratic “ayyer” of the time and what it should. The Fana ppl called over anyone interested, to ask what they think is the problem with the press industry in Ethiopia and what they believe should be done to improve the growth of democracy in the country. It was done in good faith, as you can tell from the way the moderator was conducting the discussion. Good faith, ofcourse, doesn’t mean a willingness to change. And the audience, taking the radio for its word for once, participated freely. Had much to ask of the government, press owners and stakeholders in the freedom of an audience who believed it could make a change. Sadly, those who can actually say something worth while weren’t there to answer them. They have already decided what the outcome would be, and given up on participating. Problem is, you don’t get anything fixed by giving up. You’d be spared the pain, ofcourse. And no one should call you selfish for wanting to spare yourself a pain. But unless somebody stood up to whoever and protest, wisely!!, change would never come. Won’t telling, on a “governmental” radio FOR ONCE, what the government is really doing to “maffen” the press freedom and having people actually listen to you and atleast KNOW what’s going on have been worth it? Isn’t knoweldge the first step to change?!

  • 3. Winta  |  July 15, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    Just somethings I want to say.Given that I hate long comments I will try to be as brief as possible.

    1.I understand that there is no aboslute freedom of expression. But you need to answer what responsible journalism is and to whom is it responsible. The problem here is in incomplete democracies like Ethiopia these terms are subjected to abuse. Like Radio Ethiopia would tell its journalists not to say certain things and legitimize limiting freedom of speech saying” Well , that was in my editorial policy and you have to be a responsible journalist” . I think responsible Journalism shouldn’t be covering the bad dids of a gov’t. It should be the other way around i.e to uncover facts and hold the state accountable.

    2. Addis Admas has always stayed on the safe side of reporting. If you look at their stories during the political hieght of the country you would see that. They are too careful. I can’t blame them for doing that but still that is not good journalism.

    3. You got published in Iftin ,well sorry. For me its like getting published in Addis Lisan or yekatit during mengistu. Iftin is nto a private press for me. Its a state affilitated media like Walta is.

    4. When did the disucssion for press law started. How many people and how many time have gathered at Ghion for those discussions? …Now, how much of their contributions were included in the law? Let me know that and we can talk about the significance of the Fana discussions. As I said for me its not that they come up a scam like that that makes me angry. Its the fact that they underestimate my intellegence to understand what they do. That is so insulting .

    5.I think the issue of Mimi Sebhatu is not even worth of taking so much space of your blog. I only have one thing to say, I just feel sorry for people who starve to death to educate people like her .
    6. I think we should stop apologizing for our own rights and freedom.

  • 4. abyssinia  |  July 15, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    I wouldn’t trust this government one bit. They will tell you one thing and do another.

    Proclaiming belief in freedom of the press is one thing…living with its unpredictable slings and arrows is quite another, which seems to be sadly the case in our country.

    The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of citizen. In societies like ours, freedom of press is far from being transparent.

    The basic facts are the ones that are not in favor of the government will be prosecuted and/or tortured, one way or another.

    …min yeAmen Goome yeZegene new tariku!

  • 5. abesheet  |  July 16, 2008 at 10:01 am

    Like I said, there are those parties who do not believe a journalist should be responsible to anything but the truth. That doesn’t mean a responsible journalist’s loyalty lies somewhere else. It’s more of a “to what” than “to whom”; codes and rules by which a journalist is expected to view every piece of news coming his way. Like refraining from reporting articles that would create animosity between groups of people, facts that would actually assist an enemy of your country, etc. A responsible journalist in Ethiopia, for example, won’t go about reporting how an alarming number of Muslim women are taking Marshall-Art lessons in Addis lately, with special emphasis on “anGet meQchet” le-Kifu Qen (or so I was told). Nor that their brothers, fathers, and husbands are doing victory dance after Iran declared it won’t negotiate on its right to own (or was it practice?) Nuclear weapons blah blah. So Rwanda’s fate won’t befall us! The government media, I heard, had much to do with the demise of 1 million Tutsies and lezebtegna Hutus in 3 months.

    Regarding your comment on my Iftin article .. you know .. I wasn’t trying to brag about it or anything 8) . I just felt it would be honest of me to state that I was an Iftin reader (and even contributed an article to it) because I didn’t want to feel I hid that fact just because you aren’t crazy about them. I’ll make a post of it so you can judge for yourself if it’s a private or governmental press material 😉 .

    P.S. As far as I’m concerned, most Ethiopian “miHuurs” (baalefuut 30 years or so wede Mihuurnet yegebu) are a waste of the good money spent on them. The scary thing, it’s getting worse!

  • 6. Winta  |  July 16, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    -No , I didn´t take it as a bragging. I just don´t take them as a paper you would be interested to contribute for.
    – Won´t agree with the Rwanda stuff but will leave it at that.

  • 7. mengedegna  |  July 21, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    “P.S. As far as I’m concerned, most Ethiopian “miHuurs” (baalefuut 30 years or so wede Mihuurnet yegebu) are a waste of the good money spent on them. The scary thing, it’s getting worse”

    please explaing that eskie

  • 8. abesheet  |  July 22, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    If by “explain”, you meant can i give you an evidence, I can’t! But paying a class at the Addis Ababa University a visit one Saturday afternoon may give you all the proof you need as to how down the hill Ethiopia’s education has gone in the past 30 years.

    Keep visiting!

  • 9. chinaman  |  September 18, 2008 at 6:33 am

    You shoud be the journalist with your nice talent

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