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A Brief Look into Ethiopian Mass Media

By Yibeyin Hagos
Tigrai Onlne - March 29, 2014

It’s obvious that the Mass Media is one of the driving reasons that are changing our world into a single village. When talking about Mass Media, it’s fitting to mention the prominent figures in the Medium (sector) that played a role for its birth and current position. Out of those prominent people Gutenberg, who is responsible for the birth and development of for printing media;  the radio-man Marconi, responsible for the Broadcast Media, and the creator of television (TV) Baird, are to name a few.

We can see from history that the Mass Media; which came to their present position by moving along with the changing dynamics of the world, have negative impact nearly as much as their positive impact. This is because as there are many Medias that played a huge role in speeding up countries’ economic growth and strengthening their democratic order building, there have been also some media seen causing huge chaos and destruction on other countries.

Thus, as there are Medias who played a constructive role like in Asia and Latin American countries, in contrast looking at the Rwanda radio’s role in instigating the Rwanda Civil war and Genocide will give us a view on its destructive role. Of course if the Media isn’t utilized in the correct way, the danger it unleashes cannot be underestimated.

As it’s known the Mass Media have strong ties with their respective countries’ politico–economic order. Their ownership and role is inevitably decided upon the political system. In other words, a Mass Media of a certain country is a reflection of the country’s regime (political system) – like the saying ‘every bird sings like its country’.

With regards to this, if we are to look into the not so distant memories; we’ll find two sets of politico–economic systems and Medias in our country. The Derg–era Mass Media ownership and role was a reflection of the regime.

As we all can understand, with regards to the military government’s adhered politico-economic system, it has for many years stifled freedom of expression and opinion. In addition to the Mass Media being owned only by the government, the censorship law has been used by the regime as a major stifling mechanism.

In addition to this, the Medias instead of focusing on the people’s generational demand of democratic rights and a government that has a way of poverty and backwardness, it prioritized on working on propaganda campaign that would endure the regime’s survival.

In contrast, following the demise of the Derg regime, it has been able to setup a Mass Media that’s a reflection of the politico-economic system of the regime that came after the ‘Derg’. With this it has been able to answer the question of ‘free press’ which endured through the years. And with it came the end of censorship.

Following the (new) direction the country took with regards to Media ownership, we have been able to see many private publications that are twice as much as the government-bound Medias.

This has guaranteed citizens right for freedom of expression and opinion while the process is still strengthening. It’s not very hard to realize that the Mass Media have strong ties with the politico-economic system.

The first outlook is the one held by the proponents of liberal politico-economic; which believes that the major responsibility of the journalist in the Media is to present information that will enable citizens to themselves freely. This is an effort to peg the Mass Media as independent and free of the politico-economic ideology.

This rationale is the direct result of the thinking that believes the Mass Media responsibility only lies with protecting citizens’ rights. In the flip side, the proponents of this same thinking still goes out with regards to presenting information that will enable people choose for themselves freely in a day-to-day basis is very hard. If looked at from a step back, we can easily understand that the Mass Media, either directly or indirectly, is the reflection of the politico-economic system.

On top of this, considering the media is controlled by the elite of the politico-economic establishment and also considering the strong link that exists between economic domination and dominion of political ideology, it’s easy to understand that the media have strong ties with the politico-economic establishment. As the owners of the Mass Media in neo-liberal countries are the private entrepreneurs, they are seen as business institutions that make their living on selling information.

The second thinking is a perspective reflected by some people who believe that the Mass Media should follow a mixed ownership model in which they are owned by the public, the private sector and the community simultaneously.

They believe the role of the Media should be to serve as a center where information exchange and debate between citizens take place; to create healthy relation between the public, government and the private sector; and to strengthen the democratic order.

It also believes that the media should be a hub for developing and expressing the public’s tradition, values and experience; that strengthen accountability and transparency with regards to what the government is doing, that expose lack of good governance and corruption and that guarantee the sustainability of economic development.

We can see that this outlook looks at the Mass Media as a precursor of its developmental direction and its capacity to entertain diverse opinions. What we can understand from this is the necessity of ‘wearing clothes that fits us’.

Of course as wearing something too big or too small is more harmful than beneficial, the Mass Media role should attuned to the politico-economic establishment of that certain country. This because as a Mass Media that isn’t attuned with the country’s politico-economic system is what the phrase ‘--’ denotes; and the importance for this can’t be stressed enough.

As I have tried to mention it earlier, the Media and the politico-economic ideology (of the country) has strong ties; thus ‘every bird sings like its country’ should be the working principle for the Media.

As its known our country’s government adheres to a developmental and democratic system, and is garnering success by recording two–digit economic growth for the last ten consecutive years. This developmental ideology and path the government took to alleviate the country from poverty and backwardness is part of its effort to adhere to an option that takes the country’s realities on the ground into account.

Here we should note one important thing. That’s it’s possible to develop outside of neo-liberal politico-economic ideology and philosophy. Also the fact that economic development is not garnered by completely copying from other country’s system, but by developing it from own realities on the ground.

Of course some neo-liberal extremists, who didn’t like the fact that the FDRE government put up a system that takes its own realities on the ground, tried to impose their own will on it. There were also some forces that spewed criticism and sarcasm at every possible opportunity they got.

As the saying “seeing is believing” goes, the fact that FDRE government who was able to grow the country’s economy and seen as  an act to follow by many, clearly suggests that the Media’s choice should also be developmental too.

As it’s known any country’s developmental and democratic government follow a path that envision speeding up economic growth and strengthening the democratic order building process. And the Mass Media has a huge role to play for this to be a success.

So, we find that developmental and democratic governments tend to establish free press. With regards to our country’s realities we will find that the Media the government follows a joint Media ownership, while creating an enabling environment for the Mass Media to play their own (constructive) role on speeding up the development and strengthening the democratic order building process.

For this we can look at the FDRE constitution where in article 29, sub-article 4 it’s clearly stipulates that in order for ideas and opinions which are essential to the functioning of a democratic order, the press shall, as an institution, enjoy legal protection to ensure its operation independence and its capacity to entertain diverse opinions.

This enables the country’s Medias to play their own role in helping our country achieve rapid and sustainable development. As well all know guaranteeing economic development is also an issue of guaranteeing the country’s survival.

Also, strengthening our country’s democratic order building, which has been the aspiration of our people for many years, along with speeding up the development of the country is an issue of guaranteeing the survival of the country (is an existential issue). Thus, we find out that the role the Mass Media have with regards to our country’s reality and aspirations to establish a strong unity based on our diversity and consent, is paramount.

The developed Asian and Latin America countries mass media ownership models, played a vital role in achieving their success. These countries’ Mass Media whether they’re under the ownership of the government, the public or the private sector, their role is similar. These medias working by giving due attention to realizing the agenda of economic development and strengthening the democratic order building, they are playing their role.

Of course in contrast, there are developing countries that followed liberal mass media mechanism as an option. However, these institutions mass media are known more for their failings than anything else.

This is because Liberal mass media are seen as the fourth branch of the government; so they don’t mesh well the realities of these developing countries. This kind of procedure doesn’t exist on our country’s reality. The Media (in our country) is the reflection of the system; it’s not taken as the fourth branch of the government.

In relation to our country’s adhered politico-economic system, the Mass Media taking a joint ownership model, it plays a supportive role for the three government branches of the country. Its not part of the government branch itself.


So what the role (mission) of our country’s mass media should be is speeding up the development, and supporting the governments, the publics’ and the private sector’s anti-poverty struggle by making development agenda their main priority.

In addition to this, they should play their own constructive role in making the government’s democratic order building effort successful and thereby answering the publics’ generational demand of democracy. Not only this. The agenda of the media should give priority on guaranteeing the government work is accountable and transparent, on exposing issues of good governance and corruption and on supporting the democratic and developmental order. Also, they should give priority to entertain diverse opinions and tradition, and their role in the betterment of the public.

So, if the mass media are not able to go with this line, instead of supporting the democratic order building and development they will play a destructive role by facilitating Liberal forces desires. Thus, they should not forget that they should move to bring about rapid change by using the conducive created by the (current) politico-economic system. Here I think it’s important to probe (lightly) the reality of our country’s mass media.

The fact that many media were created following the conducive environment that exists for free press that came about after the demise of the Derg regime is not a distant memory. This mass media have both positive and negative role with regards to the establishment of the new order. Especially the electronics media have made a continued effort to mobilize the public on peace, development and democratic order building that would help strengthen the constitutional system.

The mass media on top of doing works on which they point towards solutions to problems that arise with regards to guaranteeing equality on issues like religion and gender within the nation, nationalities and peoples, they have also carried out works that enabled the public protect its sovereignty by making them face the invading forces with one spirit, including diversitng the threat posed on our country’s sovereignty.

Just like the electronics media, the printing media have also contributed its own share. Especially the government’s printing media, as it has worked as much as the electronics media. In contrast, we can see that the private printing media has done its job (responsibility) in two differing ways.

In one side there were some who have done some works that helped speed up the development and the democracy building and that operated within the constitutional framework - although they’re few in number. These printing media have played their own role in fulfilling the public’s information demand and strengthening the public’s reading culture, while also exerting huge effort in fulfilling the public’s demand for information during election times.

Based on the politico-economic system, these Medias have played their own role in ensuring the sustainability of the rapid growth and in strengthening the democratic order building through a developmental path.

In the other side, there are those who instead of carrying out their responsibility of building the constitutional system, speeding up the development and strengthening the democratic order building, they were seen just opposing.

These private printing Medias; that came about as a result of the politico-economic system, huge effort to destroy the constitutional order by hiding under the wing free press, is not a distant memory. This effort has continued to this day.

These Media instead of serving as a source of information and debate hub, they have tried to carry out a destructive role by serving as a personal media for forces that don’t accept the constitution and those who oppose the politico-economic order.

The recent research conducted by neutral researchers from the Ethiopian press agency and Ethiopian news Agency on seven magazines can serve as evidence to my claim. Of course any political organization can establish its own personal and printing media.

This has created an opportunity for opposition parties to present their political outlook to the general public. However, instead the opposition parties of establishing their own party personal printing Media; they are seen operating under the name of private media.

And currently most of the newspapers and magazines who operate under the name of free press (private publication media) are working as the personal media   of the opposition parties. The fact that they put out a one sided stories confirms this fact. Although there are two types (as I have tried to mention it earlier) of outlooks with regards to the mass medias, the principle of journalism stands the same for all. Fairness, rationality, correctness, being realistic etc … are among their working principles.

However, most of the publication media of our country instead of presenting information that are verified and done in true journalistic principle; they are filled to the brim with made–up stories and unconfirmed rumors. Most of these private medias follow an “emotional” type of reporting instead of the verifying the source of the information for the truth.

Of course currently it can’t be said that these Medias are carrying out their responsibility of disseminating verified information. Instead putting out an unbalanced report that doesn’t give equal opportunity to all the sides that are involved is becoming these Medias’ forte.

Also, these Medias don’t have the golden rule of the profession: that is putting national interest ahead. There have been many instances where information that contradicts the public’s interest and that put the country and the people into danger have been widely circulated.

These publication Medias; which are filled full with information (news) that incite fight and killing between people and that hinders the nation’s development, working philosophy is not clearly known.

As most of the publication media don’t adhere to either Liberal or developmental journalistic principles, it’s very difficult to know to what philosophy they stand for. Not only their position can’t be described as developmental, but also their objective and goal does not work to guarantee the country’s developmental and democratic order.

They have the proclivity to being loyal to one party and serve as a personal media for that party perhaps their desire to cover only the opposition has to do with their inadequate capacities, not fully knowing the profession or income dependency. As a result, being unable to sing like their own country’s birds, they are moving in a destructive path.

Nevertheless, our country’s politico-economic system is both developmental and democratic. With regards to this, our country is endowed with developmental government and people.

Thus, in Ethiopia, where the people understands development is an existential issue and works hard for its execution and that works hard day and night to root democratic culture and order in the country, the agenda of the mass media should be supporting and help realize this.

So, the Media (in order to play a constructive role in changing the country) should follow a working philosophy that is based upon the reality on the ground.

And for this, I believe and many agree they should adhere to developmental journalism, which serves as a major tool for speeding up the country’s development. Of course they should adhere to developmental journalism mainly because they should work in a way that takes our country’s reality into account.

This is because building a developmental and democratic order is not only a must, but it’s a recipe for our country’s security (well being). Following this working philosophy will not only trigger huge popular participation, but it have a huge role in making the government accountable and transparent.

In addition to this, developmental journalism will play its own role in fighting against corruption and strengthening the country’s developmental and democratic order.

The main agenda of developmental journalism is to speed up development; and to speed up development participation of the public should be guaranteed. With regards to guaranteeing public participation the existence of a democratic order is a must. Thus, it should be understood that in order to speed up our country’s development and democratic order, adhering to developmental journalism is the only options.

Other than this, it’s better to understand that trying to dance to the tune of other country’s sound will only shrink the effort to speed up the economy and the democratic order that’s to be built in our country.

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