Radio is a key element of societal discourse. Its wide outreach means that it is crucial even for development and democratic progress. But the case in Ethiopia is far from the intended. Ethical and professional shortfalls are prevalent in the Ethiopian radio scene. Listeners seem to have little leverage.
The masthead of this page – the Statue of Emperor Menelik II on horseback – very well depicts the Adwa Victory which was celebrated as the victory of the black race even earning recognition by the State of Carolina in the US.
Radio stations in Ethiopia did much to highlight this historical event but generally speaking, much is lacking.
As a personal principle I am not keen on writing about other media modalities on my page.
However, observations of a radio host on one of the FM radio stations in Addis, broadcast in a programme last Saturday afternoon, prompted me to write this piece.
By some historical coincidence, the second part of the radio programme was enough to evoke comment in this column. So let me start with that.
When I was employed at the Telecommunications Board, as it was known then, my employment was endorsed by the Administrations Division Manager. He was later promoted to a Department Head before he left the country on a UN mission.
I was still the Manager of the Ethiopia Heritage Trust (EHT), when my former manager called me to ask me if there was anything I could do to help his Mission of the Association he had been trying to promote through radio. It was, then, that I came to see the importance of a radio in our society.
I can dare say that some radio stations, Sheger to be particular, has begun asking the right types of questions and interviewing the right people. In a country where officials either try to pick up the phone and say they are attending a conference or just hang up knowing who is on the line, having a radio that does the right job is much appreciated.
Let me elucidate a little bit on what my former manager told us about the brutal extermination by the fascist invaders, of Ethiopians, who had walked to Debre Libanos monastery to find refuge and save their lives. My own mother and biological father had been among the victims grouped under Aleka Gabrekirstos. Listening to a clear elucidation of the event by radio has helped me grasp the context rightly.
Yes, radio is not all about interviews. It rather has many other elements, including entertainment, information provision and news.
Often, I find it difficult to make a distinction between the substantive elements and the commercials. Of course, my points are not limited to Sheger FM.
Take the general format, for example. In the Broadcasting Proclamation, it is stated clearly a balance has to be made between the various elements. Entertainment and commercials should not exceed a certain amount. Sponsors are not allowed to advertise their services and commodities for sale. Mention of their names was supposed to be enough.
Only few of the programmes aired on our radio stations seem to operate in accordance with the Proclamation. Some of the programmes, for instance, those that raise issues related to daily lives, are very helpful to societal development. I recently listened to a programme encouraging men to take part in the upbringing of children. It was such an interesting session that has tremendous societal value.
In the West, for instance, husbands not only carry children on their chest but they also push them in strollers or prams in which babies are seated while they walk along the streets of Brussels. But, in our case, we try to publicize the business owners and trademarks even before the normal points are made in the programmes they are sponsoring.
Some radio hosts in Ethiopian not only invite listeners’ attention to advertisements, sometimes introduced by annoying noise, but they also give prizes of fizzy drinks, unhealthy as most of these drinks are.
Talking about prizes, one wonders why listeners are given a lot of money for just making a call to the studio. The prizes seem to be growing over time.
There are some who prepare very interesting programmes but do not present them well. There are also too many people on one programme, who have no coordinator to make them talk in turn, instead of talking at the same time – polluting the air time with their shallow views for want of a better term.
The weakness of radio ads is that they do not, for the most part, conform with the country’s economic policy of encouraging of import substitution commodities. It is puzzling why most FM radios end up advertising furniture imported from foreign lands and even kitchen utensils imported from Europe.
Not mentioning prices and failure to contextualize the figures broadcast daily as a business report is another blunder. Nobody knows the significance of mentioning daily foreign exchange rates to a common Ethiopian, struggling to thrive on his hard-earned money. There seems no understanding within the community of radio journalists that this type of information needs to be interpreted.
I could continue by commenting on the Googled references of information supported by the Internet that radios live by as a rule. This, of course, does does not mean the Internet is not useful. But radio stations should remember that in Ethiopia, only 2.9pc of the populace has Internet access.
What I wish is to see is radio stations that serve the purpose of informal education. As a medium that reaches most Ethiopians, radio should be a leading media outlet, in both professionalism and ethics.
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