Media Should Rise to the Occasion of a New Era

In a democracy, the media can serve as an independent observer of government and society. Without it, citizens would remain uninformed about policies and government officials’ exercise of power. However, journalists are still jailed, and press freedoms are curtailed. Such actions are often justified in the name of preserving the national image or protecting against character assassinations or defamations.

Basic human rights include the right to freedom of expressions. These rights include the freedom to seek, receive and share information and ideas across any media and national borders.

It is in the democratically matured countries that the press is most vibrant. Constitutions, such as that of the United States, establish limitations to prevent the legislative branch of government from making laws that restrict freedom of speech and self-expression.

The press has two jobs. One is to inform the public, and the other is to observe and investigate government conduct. But, it is evident that the relationship between the government and the press can be difficult and even hostile at times.

Of course, the practice of free speech by the press should be moderated in some manner. There is the famous anecdote of shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre hall. Journalistic standards should be observed, and this will more likely rise on its own if the press has guarantees to freely exercise its rights and a rewarding environment.

In the most democratised countries, media outlets that do not observe jornalistic standards will lose credibility.  Instead of the government holding newspapers and broadcasters accountable, it is their readers, and audiences, that will dole out the punishment by turning away from them.

But modern technology has complicated journalism, and Ethiopia’s media has not been exempted from it. It has changed the way journalists cover the news, into something more sensational and attention-grabbing, instead of merely informing.

Given that information is now obtained mostly for free and spreads quickly with the click of a mouse or a tap on a Smartphone, the journalistic pressure to report accurately and in context has been compounded by having to include a thrill factor. This has changed public opinion of the news and how reporters do their jobs.

In Ethiopia’s context, where there has never been a vibrant media landscape, to begin with, the problem could get worse. The legacy of media is sharply losing its readership, with declining advertisement revenues. The fact that publishing costs remain high, a reading culture is non-existent and skilled human capital is not being attracted to this field have not helped either.

But the media industry in Ethiopia should not be ruffled. It is hard to predict the future, but recent developments in the country show that there are opportunities to reap.

The political playing field seems to be opening up. With political leaders and journalists being pardoned or having their charges dropped, it is reasonable to expect that the freedom of speech could be viewed more liberally, where individuals and media outlets can be empowered to present their ideas however radical or divergent it may be.

This spread of perspectives and information could be just what the nation needs to reorient its political culture. A well-informed public that is exposed to differing points of views will make the national discourse more constructive. No one can play a better part here than the media.

The fact that news organisations have shareholders or owners that want to see their bottom lines get beefier may stand in the way of the kind of reporting that shapes policies and moves the national dialogue further. But the internet should be able to serve as an antidote to this.

The media has a large pool of possible audiences or readers as a result of its reach with what the internet offers. News organisations are still not optimally utilising the potential platform the digital world provides. Social media engagement is low, and websites are often found to be slow or even unresponsive. It is essential that media outlets make investments in their digital departments to attract the politically active youth.

The news media is crucial given the positive effects it has on the exercise of the power of officials, serving as one more check on the. Thus, the authorities have the responsibility to make licensing of broadcasting rights less bureaucratic and time-consuming.

Journalism informs people of the issues that concern them as citizens of their community, their country and the world. It makes the world a far better place where ideas and facts matter and democracy can thrive.

Belay Abera is a public health professional and researcher. He could be reached at

Published on Jun 09,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 945]



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