Ethiopia free press situation on the spotlight

A recent G-8 meeting brought Ethiopia free press situation on the spotlight again. The meeting caused gatherings of free press campaigners who had much to say about the unfavorable media landscape of Ethiopia.

Just to run through the major ones CPJ urge President Obama to emphasize the importance of free press in ensuring food security during G-8 meeting, on Huffington Post Ben Rawlence, Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch casted an unflattering light on state of human rights in Ethiopia, Straight Talk Africa VOA – an international call-in talk show hosted by Shaka Ssali discussed sterner issues of Press Freedom in Africa by inviting Birtukan Midekssa, well known opposition politician who is currently a Fascell Democracy Fellow, Mohamed Keita,Advocacy Coordinator for Africa Program ,Committee to Protect Journalists, Karin Karlekar(PhD), Project Director of Freedom of the Press, Freedom House. Meanwhile on New York Times a blog post Eennd Muchler, prefers to be hopeful though the piece highlights on murkier sides of Ethiopian journalism.

The 2012 Freedom House press freedom indicator categorized Ethiopia as ‘Not Free’ zone and ranked it 176th out of 194 countries. This tied Ethiopia with the Gambia which left both at 43rd out of all African countries. The rankings are based on evaluation of the legal, political, and economic environments for media in each country with a scale representing 0 as “most free” to 100 as “least free. On the talk show Birtukan Midekssa reiterated that she was not surprised to see such terrible performance from Ethiopia. Furthermore she insisted that with such terrible track record of the past two decades for Ethiopia’s government it has no alternative but attempting to swing people’s attention to its economic development narratives, service delivery in Shaka Ssali’s terms.

Elsewhere it was reported that two members of the U.S. Congress, Mark Begich, an Alaska Democrat and Edward Royce a Republican have openly expressed their concern at Ethiopia’s persecution of members of free press which are widely considered as proponents of democracy, with both equally asserting the fact that press freedom will boost stability and security that enhance the democratization process contrary to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s claims that dismissed any direct relationship between economic growth and democracy at recent World Economic Forum (WEF) which took place in Addis Ababa from 9 to 11 May 2012.

In contrast, home based Ethiopia’s media outlets do reflect on the predicament of Ethiopia’s free press, but their focus was largely on a new directive that authorizes government printers to censor the content of newspapers and magazine that reject their publications.

“I am really surprised by the audacity of Berhanene Selam (Ethiopia’s main, state-owned printing company) to impose this kind of obligation in clear violation of abrogating the provision which is stated in the constitution. So the Ethiopian press is in a really grim situation created by the action from the printing house.” says Yakob Hailemariam (Ph.D.) in an interview with the English Version of The Reporter. On the Amharic version of the same newspaper “An Ethiopian free press faced with censorship” writes Daniel Bekalu. Amare Aregawi, General Manager of the private newspaper Reporter, argued that freedom of expression in Ethiopia is facing a more serious challenge than ever before during the World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) that was marked on Thursday, May 3, at the newly built African Union Hall writes Capital a weekly English newspaper on its society section. While Addis Fortune in its typical fine line column choose to reveal US diplomats based in Addis Abeba were speeding up to include democratic deficits including space for dissent and the media as agenda for a discussion which was to be held during Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s G-8 Summit attendance. Sheger Café, a talk show hosted by Meaza Birru discussed the impact of these new directives in broader, context with Abdu Ali Jira. Abdu stressed these new directives a copy of which have been circulating online after CPJ put the copy online allows printers to terminate any printing contract if the publisher repeatedly submits content the printer considers legally questionable.

On social media arena Ethiopian netzines often post their reaction to the stories those show the state of Ethiopia’s press freedom through their Facebook updates and tweets and despite the restrictions and a wide-ranging fear of being persecuted words spread quickly in Ethiopian social media sphere. For instance a recent footage which shows an Ethiopian journalist speech interruptive objection targeted against Prime Minster Meles Zenawi at G8 Summit 2012 was shared extensively amongst netzines. Yet within hours of the news going up, most news sites, you tube channels and blogs those put out the video were blocked ; only Twitter, Facebook and few blogs contained information or footage of the journalist’s protest at the G8 Summit. Later local media and few news websites ran sanitized versions of the story and, all state owned media and one local FM Radio Station focused on the ‘praise’ and ‘accolades’ Prime Minster Meles Zenawi received from the participants of the summit rather than the hype swirling around the protest video footage.

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