A Celebration Under Disguise

The national broadcaster is celebrating its Golden Jubilee. But its state is not a manifestation of the wider media sphere in the country. The Ethiopian media sphere is identified with direct and indirect suppression: journalists live an uncertain life. Had the press been free, though, the nation and its citizens could have benefited a lot.

Celebrating anniversaries has become the order of the day and Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC) is no exception to the rule. A major exhibition with graphic displays, mounted from February 2 to February 7, was visited by hundreds of onlookers such as veteran actors and journalists. People flocked to the exhibition at the newly built Oromo Cultural Center The timing of the celebration could be translated as historical irony, in the face of deadly protests in hundreds of towns and schools where EBC reporters and cameramen did not dare to place a foot.

Talking of ironies, another historical irony that took place in the capital, on February 7, 2016, was the official ceremony of reinstating the monument of patriot and martyr Abune Petros to the spot where it had stood for over eight decades. His dedication, commitment, and his love for his country and his people had given him the courage to face those who may have betrayed their oath and submitted to the enemy – the Italians. He faced his killers bravely.

Abune Petros was blessing his enemies and crossing his hands in solemn oath telling his people not to betray their land and people. While we reinstate the monument of a martyr, though, should we ignore those peaceful demonstrators who stood their ground in front of the guns of the armed security forces?

We should not forget that these were killed by their own people being paid by the taxpayer.

Judging by the interviews given to reporters, we have learned that the television transmission technology has brought a lot of change in the field. But what they do not dare to tell us, is that our immediate neighbour Kenya, which got its independence on December 12, 1953 (only three years older than EBC), now has at least 90 FM radio stations and over 50 TV stations. No mention is made here about that country’s numerous publications whose daily circulation exceed the million mark.

It is intriguing for me to find justification in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the solitary television service provider for a population of nearly 100 million people.

Do we celebrate the EBC Jubilee as the only instrument serving as the propaganda machine of the government or as a symbol of the free press?

By the way, from among all branches of technology in the world, it is the field of the communication technology that shows the fastest leap forward.Telecommunications technology, is the pillar of electronics media. From the perspective of rapid speed of the advancement of communications technology, therefore, 50 years of EBC cannot be a measure to evaluate its development: it has no role in the technology leap, apart from the eventual purchase of the products of the electronics technology.

If at all there is something to be proud of, it should be the extent of the contribution EBC has made in terms of educating the public about the virtues of the constitution, civil education and facilitating public participating in the affairs of Parliament. Sadly, all we see is those so called artists, singers, stage players and actors, and their respective memories being introduced to the people at large.

Recently, a Media Council was established followed by the appointment of Board members by the Prime Minister, endorsement by Parliament. It would be jumping to conclusions for me to write about what it is going to serve.

We are told that the issue of forming the Council took over 10 years of debate and deliberation before it saw the light of day.

Even so, I am not sure if the election of the members of the Council has gone through democratic competition or whether it had full backing of the media operators. I was hoping that some kind of a legal committee or body would be established to safeguard and protect the security of journalists from illegal imprisonment; to empower them to ask questions and enable them to report actual situations on the ground to the public.

If the press was free from suppression, direct or indirect, unlawful embezzlement of government property, illegal enrichment of people in government offices, lack of good governance, rent collection and widespread corruption would not have been nurtured to threaten the country’s pillar of unity. Now corruption is being labelled as an industry growing faster even than the double digit growth I remarked on last week.

Before I finish though, I want to express my heartfelt appreciation of some Members of Parliament (MPs), who argued that a rather usual assessment report by the Federal Ethics & Anti-Corruption Commission was unacceptable. Some of them, perhaps for the first time since the new election, spoke loudly and objectively that it was not enough to use the same clichéd reposting of that this and that drawback. This seems to be a step in the right direction.

While celebrating anniversaries, therefore, we need to be cautious not to be taken away by rhetoric. Facts should guide us instead.

By Girma Feyissa

Published on Feb 14,2016 [ Vol 16 ,No 824]



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