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[Dehai-WN] Eurasiareview.com: Media Control In Ethiopia

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Sat, 21 Apr 2012 15:32:37 +0200

Media Control In Ethiopia

by Graham Peebles |

April 21, 2012 (Eurasia Review)

Democracy Denied

Democracy sits firmly upon principles of freedom, justice, social inclusion
and participation in civil society. Where these qualities of fairness are
absent so too is democracy, for the word is not the thing, to speak of
democratic values is easy enough, to dismantle repressive methods and State
practices that deny there expression is quite another. President Meles
Zenawi Asres of Ethiopia knows little of democracy, human rights or the
manifestation of democratic principles and much of repression and
intimidation. The EPRDF government rules Ethiopia with a heavy hand of
control, restricting completely free assemble - a universal right written
into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), inhibiting the
freedom of the media and denying the people of Ethiopia freedom of
expression in manifold ways.

Media freedom is a basic pillar of any democratic society. Freedom of
political expression, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press are
essential elements of a democracy. Whilst media independence throughout the
world is contentious at best, autonomy from direct State ownership and
influence is a crucial element in establishing an independent media. The
Ethiopian State owns and strictly controls the primary media of television
and radio. Not only is there no independent TV and radio in Ethiopia, but
access to information is also tightly controlled, as Human Rights Watch
(HRW) makes clear in its report, One Hundred Ways of Putting Pressure.
Violations of Freedom of Expression and Association in Ethiopia, "the
independent media has struggled to establish itself in the face of constant
government hostility and an inability to access information from government
officials." Since the 2005 elections in Ethiopia the government has
systematically introduced tighter and tighter methods of control, HRW
continues, over the past five years the Ethiopian government has restricted
political space for the opposition, stifled independent civil society, and
intensified control of the media.

Owning information

Since the end of the civil war in 1991 privately owned newspapers and
magazines have been appearing and despite heavy regulation by the Meles
government, this area of Ethiopian media is expanding. This the government
reluctantly tolerates, knowing that print media is of little significance,
due to low literacy of the adult population (48%), a shameful figure that
the EPRDF is no doubt delighted with, high levels of poverty and poor
infrastructure making distribution difficult, newspapers are not widely
circulated or read, consequently the main source of information for the
majority of people is the state owned television and radio, which serve as
little more than a mouthpiece of propaganda for the resident regime, the

Internet media is also restricted, with access to the web the lowest in
Africa; Research & Markets found "Ethiopia has the lowest overall
teledensity in Africa. The population is approaching 90 million, but there
are less than 1 million fixed lines in service, and a little more than 3.3
million mobile subscribers. The number of internet users is dismal - below
500,000 at the end of 2009." 1 The World Bank puts the figure a little
higher at 7.5% of the population. In another demonstration of democratic
duplicity, the government of Ethiopia controls all telecommunications.
Internet and telephone systems must run through the State owned Ethiopian
Telecommunications Corporation. The vast majority of the population - 82.40%
in 2010, according to a World Bank report released in 20112, live in rural
areas and have no access to the 'worldwide web' at all. By maintaining
monopoly control of telecommunications the Ethiopian Government is denying
the majority of the population access to another key area of mass
information. This is an additional infringement of basic democratic
principles of diversity and social participation, as Noam Chomsky makes
clear "The most effective way to restrict democracy is to transfer
decision-making from the public arena to unaccountable institutions: kings
and princes, priestly castes, military juntas, party dictatorships, or
modern corporations."3 Party dictatorships fits the Ethiopian government
tailor-made, although their arrogance and vanity would no doubt prefer the
title of 'kings and princes', Emperor Meles perhaps, following in the brutal
glow of that other conceited controller Halie Sellassie. The EPRDF regime is
in fact a dictatorship and known as such to the majority of Ethiopians
living inside and indeed outside the country, who are courageous enough to
speak out and make their views known. Courageous indeed, for as with all
cowardly brutal states, the EPRDF rules by violence, intimidation and fear,
HRW again Ethiopia's citizens are unable to speak freely, organize political
activities, and challenge their government's policies through peaceful
protest, voting, or publishing their views without fear of reprisal. Such is
democratic living under the Meles machine.

Law Breakers

Freedom of thought, freedom of expression and of information is a basic
requirement under the UDHR. Article 19 makes this clear "Everyone has the
right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to
hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart
information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."
Although the UDHR is not in itself a legally binding document, it provides
moral guidance for states and offers a clear indication of what we as a
world community have agreed as the basic requirements of correct governance
and civilized living. In the preamble is stated "it is essential, if man is
not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against
tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of
law." Tyranny and oppression is the cloud under which the good people of
Ethiopia are living and have lived for the twenty-year rule of President
Meles and co. It is through the implementation and enforcement of
international law, established to safeguard the people's basic human rights
that the suffering and injustices may and will be brought to an end. The
sister document to the UDHR the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights (ICCPR) provides such legal protection and is indeed
legally binding. There we find, Article 19, paragraph 1 " Everyone shall
have the right to hold opinions without interference." And paragraph 2 "
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall
include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all
kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in
the form of art, or through any other media of his choice."

Ethiopia ratified this international treatise on 11th June 1993, and is
therefore legally bound by its articles. By imposing tight regulatory
controls on media inside and indeed outside of Ethiopia, the case of ESAT TV
based in Holland, whose satellite signal is repeatedly [illegally} blocked
by the EPRDF, is an important case in question. Not only is the Ethiopian
government in violation of international law, but by completely restricting
the freedom of the media and inhibiting completely any hint of dissent, the
regime is also in contradiction of its own constitution. Article 29,
entitled rather optimistically 'Right of Thought, Opinion and Expression'
states, 1. Everyone has the right to hold opinions without interference. 2.
Everyone has the right to freedom of expression without any interference.
This right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and
ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in
print, in the form of art, or through any media of his choice. 3. Freedom of
the press and other mass media and freedom of artistic creativity is
guaranteed. Freedom of the press shall specifically include the following
elements: (a) Prohibition of any form of censorship. (b) Access to
information of public interest.4 Clear and noble words, indeed democratic in
content and tone, however words that sit filed neatly upon the shelf of
neglect and indifference, as the people suffer and cry out to their mother
country, serve only as a mask of convenience and deceit allowing the
betrayal of the many to continue. Human Rights Watch gently states, the 1995
constitution incorporates a wide range of human rights standards, and
government officials frequently voice the state's commitment to meeting its
human rights obligations. But these steps while important, have not ensured
that Ethiopia's citizens are able to enjoy their fundamental rights.

State suppression

In 2009 the EPRDF passed two inhibiting pieces of legislation that embody
some of the worst aspects of the governments decent towards greater
repression and political intolerance. The controversial CSO law, is
according to HRW, one of the most restrictive of its kind, and its
provisions will make most independent human rights work impossible. A
'counterterrorism' law was introduced at the same time; this second piece of
repressive legislation allows the government and security forces to
prosecute political protesters and non-violent expressions of dissent as
terrorism. Since the introduction of these internationally criticised laws,
the UN Jubilee Campaign in its report 'Human Rights Council Universal
Periodic Review Ethiopia' recommends the adoption of this law [emphasis
mine] be repealed," the umbrella term 'terrorist', meaning anyone who
disagrees with the party/state line continues to be used and manipulated as
justification for all manner of human rights violations and methods of
suppression and control - the aim of all dictatorships. What defines a
terrorist or an act of terrorism remains vague and ambiguous, enabling the
Meles regime to construct definitions that suit them at any given time.
Amongst other travesties of justice the legislation, The Bureau of
Investigative Journalism reveals, "permits a clamp down on political
dissent, including political demonstrations and public criticisms of
government policy, it also deprives defendants of the right to be presumed
innocent."5 A primary function of the media in a democratic society is to
examine and criticise the government and provide a public platform for
debate and participation. This law denies such interaction and freedom of
expression. The law is in violation of the ICCPR and blatantly contravenes
the much-championed Ethiopian constitution; idealised images of goodness,
remaining un-manifest, stillborn.

The anti-terror law is a pseudonym for a law of repression and control, made
and enforced by a paranoid regime, that is determined to use all means in
its armoury to quash any dissent and maintain a system of disinformation and
duplicity. Media organisations that disagree with the EPRDF party line run
the risk of being branded, under this law 'terrorists', arrested and
imprisoned as such. Dawit Kebede, editor-in-chief of Awramba Times, says
"the law provides a pretext for the government to intimidate and even arrest
journalists who fall afoul of its wording. Kebede said the regulations were
a government campaign to oppress all forms of dissident activity." (Ibid)
This new unjust law completely inhibits ability of the media to report
anything that is deemed critical of the current government. All opposing
voices to policy are stifled; journalists are frightened and the facility to
expose and criticize the many serious violations of human rights, to provide
a balanced view of the issues facing the country are denied. The rights to
freedom of expression and association are completely restricted, all
independent voices have been virtually silenced and freedom of speech and
opinion are denied. Human Rights Watch makes clear its concern, over the
past five years the Ethiopian government has restricted political space for
the opposition, stifled independent civil society, and intensified control
of the media.6

Control flows from fear, the greater the dishonesty, corruption and greed
the more extreme the controls become. Under the neglectful corrupt
governance of the EPRDF, Ethiopians are subjected to a range of human rights
abuses and violations political opposition has been unofficially banned,
making this democracy sitting in the Horn of Africa a single party
dictatorship. The UN in its human rights report finds, "resistance to
opposition has become the primary source of concern regarding the future of
human rights in Ethiopia" and confirms the view of HRW, stating "The CSO law
directly inhibits rights to association, assembly and free expression." The
Meles regime seek, as all isolated corrupt dictatorships do, to centralize
power, deny dissent and freedom of expression and suppress the people by
intimidation, violence and fear. Creating an atmosphere of apprehension,
extinguishing all hope of justice, true human development and freedom from
tyranny. Disempowerment is the aim, the means are well known, crude and
unimaginative, keep the people uneducated, deny them access to information,
restrict their freedom of association and expression and keep them

Demanding justice

The downtrodden suppressed people of Ethiopia, living under the brutality of
the Meles regime, whose human rights are being ignored, without an effective
media, have no voice. The controls that deny media freedom and the people
the freedom of association and expression, guaranteed under the Ethiopian
constitution and international law, must be repealed, HRW in its detailed
report makes a series of basic demands of the Ethiopian government, which
reinforce this, key among them is the call to "Guarantee unrestricted access
to Ethiopia to international media and independent human rights
investigators, and cease harassment of Ethiopian media."

The days of the dictator are over, no amount of repressive legislation can
any longer safeguard a regime that rules through violence and inhibition.
Meles and his cronies ensconced behind armed walls of duplicity, may well
seek control, the fearful always do, the will of the people though is for
freedom, justice and peace, enjoy your privilege President Meles, for your
days are numbered, the will of the people must and shall be done for justice
and the rule of law underlies their every call for liberty and the
observation of their human rights.




3. Domestic Constituencies Noam Chomsky.

4. Constitution of The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

5. The bureau of investigative journalism

6. Human Rights watch (HRW)



Graham is Director of The Create Trust, a UK registered charity, supporting
fundamental social change and the human rights of individuals in acute need.
He may be reached at graham_at_thecreatetrust.org


Prime Minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi.


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Received on Sat Apr 21 2012 - 09:32:36 EDT
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