From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Tue Mar 23 2010 - 16:05:26 EST
Fears over Ethiopia's press code
March 23 2010 at 07:25PM
By Aaron Maasho
Addis Ababa - A new press code that sets guidelines for coverage of
Ethiopia's elections in May has drawn fire from embattled media staff, who
face fines and jail time if found guilty of violations.
The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia approved the framework two weeks
ago, ahead of the May 23 polls, but journalists are already voicing their
disapproval and fears over its restrictions.
The code bans journalists from carrying out interviews of voters, candidates
and observers during election day, while it also prohibits predictions ahead
of the announcement of results.
Transgressors face one year in jail for reporting on the latter.
"We stand against every article that is stipulated in the law. It simply
puts an unreasonable amount of burden on any journalist," Anteneh Abraham,
head of the Ethiopian National Journalists Union, told AFP Tuesday.
"We simply can't work under those conditions. The strict restrictions have
instilled fear in all media workers," he added.
Further restrictions have also been placed on coverage from inside polling
stations during the same day, in particular the limited access granted for
photography and video footage.
However, an article on security has sparked the most concern due to what is
seen as ambiguity.
"Media workers must refrain from reports that may incite rebellion and
terrorism," according to the article.
It bans the "preparation, publishing and distribution of reports that foment
political instability and chaos along ethnic, religious, linguistic ...
"It's way too dangerous for anyone," a reporter told AFP on condition of
"I will simply avoid covering the elections as it is not worth the potential
trouble," he added.
Anteneh said he doubted the legality of the government's decision to allow
an electoral board to come up with a press law, and slammed its authorities
for adopting the code "in secret" without consulting all stakeholders.
But election panel spokesman Mohammed Abdurahman defended the code.
"The law does not intend to restrict coverage. Every element was given
thorough consideration and is meant to safeguard the holding of transparent
and free elections," said Mohammed.
"For example, predictions are not allowed because there is no credible
institution that can carry out polls in Ethiopia," he added.
Journalists have had their run-ins with the government in Addis Ababa,
notably in the violent aftermath of the 2005 elections which claimed some
200 lives and saw dozens of reporters rounded up and imprisoned.
Last week, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said he was prepared to censure the
Voice of America's Amharic language service for its "destabilising
More than 29 million people have registered to vote for Ethiopia's fourth
elections since the communist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam was toppled in
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