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BBC News Night’s reportage: a Party Political Broadcast on behalf of HRW

By Dilwenberu Nega
August 06 2011

Two wrongs do not make a right whether you live in Birmingham England or in Birmingham Alabama, but not so in BBC-ville – supposedly home to a cut above the rest investigative journalism.

Ten months ago to the day, on November 4th 2010, the BBC issued an apology to Sir Bob Geldof for insinuating that Ethiopia’s incumbent party had used Band Aid money to buy weapons for its fight against the Derg. BBC’s apology, however, did not extend to the people and Government of Ethiopia? Why? Does the fact that our nation is caught in perennial draught make us not worthy of a BBC apology? Or has the BBC been swayed by obnoxious neo-colonial sentiments?

On the 4th August 2011, the BBC aired what it described as “an under-cover investigation” into human rights violations by the Ethiopian Government. But how true are these allegations? Has the EPDRF, which was born and bred in the rigours of drought and famine, really turned so insensitive that it has stooped to the level of withholding food-aid from its political opponents? Or is it all froth and effervescence concocted by die-hard opponents who have become restless in their current state of somnolence? Or is this the latest coordinated attack by unelected and unaccountable HRW to frog-march Ethiopia into accepting neo-liberal policies – policies which are the real cause behind the current economic crises in developed economies?

I have never had the good fortune of being part of the struggle to free Ethiopians from the iron-grip of Africa’s most brutal dictatorship, but from the wide literature I had read about the 17 year struggle such allegations are anathema to EPDRF. Criticising a ruling party based on irrefragable evidence is one thing, but to turn fiction into fact is mean.

Here this scribe is not advocating for the Ethiopian Government per se, nor am I launching a damage limitation exercise on behalf of EPDRF. Thanks to EPDRF’s routine “GEMGEMA” if there is any kind of abuse anywhere, I am confident that it will be addressed as swiftly as possible. My sole argument, on the other hand, focuses on the demerit of BBC News Night’s reportage which I found to be tendentious bordering on the fictitious. I emphasize demerit for I discern no merit in an investigative journalist who willingly or naively falls prey to the machinations of our domestic leaders of opposition parties for whom the BBC has provided the much yearned for oxygen of publicity. Besides, how could there be merit in an investigative journalism where in the very words of the journalist “these allegations are difficult to verify.” An allegation which is hard to corroborate indicates that there is something fishy about the whole affair.

Let’s kick off then with the team of under-cover journalists, who having posed as tourists, went about discharging their journalistic duties in a country which in the very words of the narrator has become “a one party state.” One party state are known more for their notorious security services whose vetting of foreigners is an open secret. How is it then that the journalists was seen freely travelling in Ethiopia. Contrary to the journalist’s portrayal of Ethiopia as a closed society, the truth is that it is a destination where visitors from many nations can get their visas on arrivals. Neither is today’s Ethiopia is Burma where foreign journalists are denied visas. As “The Brussels of Africa” hundreds of foreign journalists in Addis Ababa are seen enjoying unhindered access to places and personalities. The phenomenal growth of Ethiopia’s print-media is testimony to the fact that free and unabashed media is very much alive and kicking.

The gamut of News Night’s reportage is a recycled version of allegations Human Rights Watch had made less than a year ago – allegations to which resident EU Heads of Mission had refuted robustly. There would be no rhyme or reason for the EU Ambassadors to cover up these allegations. Who decreed that this group of men and women are less paladins of virtue than self-righteous members of HRW?

What makes the reportage even more laughable is the fact the investigative journalist has taken the words of opposition luminaries at face value and tries to place blame for the opposition parties’ poor performance at the last Election on the ruling party. Nothing could be more nonsensical. No amount of re-writing the annals of history would alter the fact that EPDRF managed to win the 2010 Election with a landslide because it had taken time out to look inwards, because it had the humility to draw lessons from its failure to win Addis Ababa in the 2005, because it had transformed itself into a listening party as well as because it was the only party which offered Ethiopians sustained economic growth and durable peace and stability. Our opposition parties on the other hand were either content to rest on past laurels alone or failed to convince the electorate that their alternatives will guarantee the continued flow of dividends from the current diversity-celebrating-federalism and from sustained economic growth.

It’s high time that the BBC and HRW come to realise that EPDRF was voted into power to lead Ethiopians to greener pastures and not to mollycoddle our frustrated and confounded opposition parties.