The Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP) has decided to discontinue using media airtime allocated by the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority (EBA) to political parties running for the upcoming fifth election, allowing media access for them to promote and introduce their policy options and alternatives.
The decision, made public by the party came after repeated allegations of censorship and denial by different media outlets to broadcast campaign programmes by the party. Among the media house named in the EDP press statement on May 1, 2015, were the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC), Zami Radio 90.7 and Fana Broadcasting Corporation. EBC and Zami refused to broadcast one campaign programme each whereas Fana refused to broadcast two programmes, said Adane Tadesse, member of the executive committee of the party.
The justification given by the media organisations was that the contents were offensive in their discrediting of government institutions and questioned their credibility, said Workneh Tafa, public relations head of EBA.
“We accept the decision of those media organisations, made with a clear and a justified manner,” added Workneh.
Zami says the content given to it by the party contradicted its editorial policy.
“Their content criticised the constitution for being too rigid to amend and they accused the national army of unlimited involvement in the economy,” said Surafel Zelalme, head of media campaign desk at Zami. “We asked the party to make adjustments in the content and give more clarification, but they refused.”
Broadcasting the content as delivered by the party could have led them to be accused by the government, he said.
The contents of the message go against Article 12 of the directive on media air time utilisation of political parties, Workneh argued. It says campaigns which incite violence, war and unrest shall not be broadcast; again those contents that agitate, pitting one ethnic group over the other to wage conflict and a message which goes against the constitution, election code of conduct and directives of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) shall not be allowed to be taken as an election campaign and broadcast.
In this specific article, however, nothing is mentioned which implies that campaigns which criticise government institutions were not allowed. Workneh declined to comment on this saying that it required legal interpretation.
The programmes which were prohibited from broadcast were mainly focused on criticising the ways in which different democratic institutions operate, not about questioning their existence as an institution, Chane Kebede (PhD), president of EDP told Fortune in a telephone conversation from Bahir Dar.
It focused on the ruling party’s interference in those institutions which affect their independence, added Chane.
For instance, one of the programmes rejected by Zami Radio talked about the constitution; in this regard the article, which was derived from the manifesto of the party, argued on the rigidity of the constitution for amendments and it argued that the party would change the way the constitution would be amended, said Adane
According to Article 104 and 105 of the constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, the constitution can only be amended if the Parliament and the House of Federation have approved it by a two-thirds vote and if all Regional Councils of the nine regions and two federal cities accept the decision by the same vote.
So as per this content, the radio stations and the Authority have prohibited the party from transmitting its campaign saying the message goes against the constitution, added Adane. The remaining articles were on the interference of the national army in the economy and issue of political prisoners. According to the party’s manifesto, it argued that the involvement of the national army within the economic sphere has to be limited by law. And in relation to political prisoners, the party has proposed within its manifesto that it guarantees clemency for any political prisoners who were arrested by the ruling party because of their stance.
“It would be preferable if we had used the media air time to present our policy options and alternatives as a competing party but now we reached to the limit where we can no longer compromise such action of banning our campaign programmes,” said Adane.
The party has used 60 of its programmes on radio and television both in regional and national stations, each lasting for 15 minutes, with 23 yet to be used; it has also used seven of the 11 newspaper columns allocated to it.
It was in February 2015 that EBA and the Board had allocated 500 hours of television air time, 100 hours and 10 minutes of radio and 700 columns of space in government-owned newspapers for 46 political parties to conduct their campaigns. The allocation was made on the basis of 40:40:10:10 ratio. The first two numbers represent the number of seats in the parliament and regional council and the number of candidates registered for the upcoming election, while the remaining two are based on the number of female candidates with the rest equally shared.
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