The much talked about Ethiopian Media Council has been established by the all too familiar faces. The organizers claim that it has taken them a decade to achieve their objective. While it is not that undesirable to have the council, neither is it something that the country’s press is particularly dying for.The most important issue being creating a media environment where all voices can be heard without fear or intimidation.
No one denies that a genuine media council would have helped journalists to be monitored and regulated by their own peers rather than by overzealous law enforcement officials, as is the case in the country. Alas, the newly formed assembly doesn’t give much hope for optimism either.
To begin with, the person who wants to go down in history as the founder of the Council has been instrumental in abetting the witch hunt of journalists by the government.Their weekly program “Kib Terebeza” (Round table) is all about vilifying critical voices whether in the media or in politics. Even on the eve of the gathering, the show was on all out war against a known opposition leader Yilkal Getnet. The other founding members are either supporters or operatives of the ruling party, making it hard for them to be viewed impartial in the eyes of the public, much less by fellow journalists.
Even without those paradoxes, the formation was mired in controversy. Most of the media in the country have boycotted it. Budding private newspapers, professional associations, civic society and other crucial elements were markedly absent. As to the online media, the Council was unequivocal in excluding them, though most of the participants’ media outfits maintain a steady web presence. That means, when and where the Council starts to work, it can only oversee the affairs of its member enterprises, most of which, by the way, are indistinguishable – Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC), Zami FM, The Reporter, Ethio-Channel and like-minded flocks. And the source of its finances is barely ironed out. Lest we forget, who pays the piper calls the tune!
EBC’s solid presence was rather awkward,if not undesirable. An establishment notorious for its persistence in calling for arrests of journalists can hardly be proponent of media ethics. Its curiously titled series of Akeldama and Harakat were sowing fear among the private media. Unfortunately, about a half-dozen of the participants were related to EBC one way or the other. It begins with Getachew Reda who heads the board of the corporation.The others didn’t necessarily spoke for EBC. They masqueraded as representatives of various unions. And the deputy general manager was elected secretary of the Council. No wonder then the company rushed to air a piece entitled “New chapter for the media.”
If the gathering of a bunch of bewildered media hacks heralds the onset of a “new chapter,” then mass communication in the country has really hit rock bottom. Time to save it!