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Masquerading Under the Guise of Free Press

By Maru Feleke
Tigrai Onlne - May 15, 2014

There’s no debate that media is a tool that plays a major role in building democratic order and in creating national agreement. If the media is used for (utilized) for positive things it can to bring change by mobilizing the country, while if utilized in a negative way, it can be gateway to bloodshed, chaos and bedlam. Whether it’s in a developing or a developed country, when a group of people decides to carry out this grand gesture, the first thing they look upon is the availability of democratic institutions.

They work hard to have these democratic institutions, so that they can help organize citizens that have democratic culture. One of those institutions, and also the main, is the media. However, the media that is built in any country is done by taking their respective realities in to account; and not by completely copying the western modalities.

As its known, the media in the west can act freely as if its the fourth governmental organ. Up there Media’s putout reports that either supports or opposes anyone from an average person to the ruling and opposing parties of the country. What should be noted here is the fact that these reports are made in a way that would support the neo-liberal establishment.

Any reports that oppose or degrade the neo-liberal order (establishment) don’t have any place on these Medias; they don’t even consider them. Looking at these issue with regards to our country’s realities, some local riot-drumming private press are demanding for this kind of ‘the fourth organ of the government’ media to be established here in our country; by completely copying western journalism as it is.

Truth be told, it’s no more than twenty decades since freedom of press is guaranteed through the law in our country. And it’s obvious that the media will go strengthened along with country’s general political and economical order.

But, to demand or argue our two one year old free press to be equal with those that have more than two hundred years worth media experience doesn’t benefit us one single bit – and it’s a feeble argument and comparison.

As anyone knows, Ethiopia’s free press has a very short history. And it’s also an institution that’s being built through a process along with the country’s socio-economy. As its reflection of this order, it would be futile to try to do a direct copy of the western model. And there’s a reason for it.

As there’s no opening for a developmental democracy model media to be built in the western adhered neo-liberal system, there is also no opening (at least for the time being) for neo-liberal propagating media to be created in a developmental democratic order.

What inspired me to write this article is my amazement on the ridiculousness of some of articles that are put out on some of the free press, with their insistence for us to adhere to the western media philosophy without backing it up with any kind of educational lining.

The “writers” of these articles are columnists on weekly newspapers. The usual writing of these columnists is depressive, narcissistic, negative, and pessimistic. And they haven’t stopped their usual disaster and misery cries on these newspapers and magazines.

They have been busy blowing their terror horns. Though their degrading pen; which they usually use to blacken positive and good things, they’re continued on with their campaign of blackening the government. Outside of their usual semantics, there isn’t an iota of new thing they report to us.

Nevertheless, recently accidently and unlike their usual self, they have tried to cite some hard facts in order to appear as a beacon of truthful and candid reporting.

They didn’t have the guts to deny the fact that the governments that came after the end of the cold war (this also includes EPRDF) played a constructive role in creating an environment for oppositions to thrive, by adhering to a free press and multi party system. And they cited foreign books to help them strengthen their (this) position.

Of course there is one truth that nobody can deny. That is, free press has thrived everywhere following the end of the cold war. And course EPRDF, which came to power during this aforementioned era is part of this. Following the demise of the dictatorial military junta ‘Derg’, a number of printing press and opposing parties came into the foray.

And the columnists should be given credit for not discrediting EPRDF’s constructive role in this achievement. Even though they tend to criticize EPRDF, they couldn’t totally discredit the government in achieving this feat.

All in all, it’s not in the wish of these so-called writers (columnists) to give factual story to the public, as they were seen time and again struggling to do just this. They do not chose or it’s not in their style to put out the truth and present it to the court of public opinion as it is – they did not find this method a profitable political tactic, so they chose to disregard it (disregard the truth).

To present to truth without any compromises seeks a clear conscious; and these “writers” don’t seem to have it. Instead in a way that’s not to be expected out of a journalistic ethic, they are involved in showering praises on a person they don’t like and at the same time wage a smear and blackening campaign on a person they don’t like.

But, there is one truth. Although this might a bitter pill to swallow for these so-called writers, the fact is both free press and opposition parties came into being following the conducive political, economical and social environment created by EPRDF.

As it can be understood from the profession of journalism, it’s a profession that stands to shade light on the truth so that the public can see it and decide upon it on its own prerogative. Also the journalist job is to educate, make aware and entertain the public.

It’s about pointing out mistakes so that they can be amended; and presenting insightful and unbiased reports so that the strong suits can be further encouraged and strengthened.

Other than this, if a journalist is consumed on writing hatred based pessimistic and extremists outlooks, it can’t be said that he/she has carried out his/her professional responsibility except for confusing the public and leading them to make mistakes – and this is what has been seen from these “writers”.

This is not really different from these writer’s intentions or desires. Their outlook is fenced by complete hatred. Also considering that their mission in job is not to mobilize the public for good deeds, or to edify the coming generation, it’s not really surprising that they present the truth as lies, the light as dark. It’s not new for them to exploit every sinister plot and conspiracies that would help execute their hidden agenda.

Although on their recent exploits, they wrote that the thriving of free press and opposition parties has to do with the governments that came immediately after the end of cold war, but its core idea (substance) is part of their same old smear campaign against the government - arguing Ethiopian democracy is without a free press by citing anything out there that can help their twisted causes.

These “writers” tend to start their article by introducing undeniable facts and truths, and then try to back it through foreign “analysts” Nevertheless, if we look the writer’s ultimate conclusion and outlook, it would take us to one-side extreme of ‘there is no free press in Ethiopia’.

No matter what these so-called writer’s conclusion, the fact is following the demise of the “Derg” and up to the 1997 general election, free press and opposition parties have been created in the country in numbers. And it’s also a fact that they have stalled themselves through a fault and weakness of their own - they have stumbled upon themselves.

There is no point in covering the truth. Unlike what these so-called writers or their frequently referenced foreign “Analysts” say, those free press extremist opposition parties paved their own downfall by the sinister plot and conspiracy they plotted – they plotted their own downfall.

Both journalism and politics demands insightful thinking. They are not profession one just gets into by weighing their profitability. They demand stern responsibility. Unfortunately, the main reasons cited for the fading down of free press are: their short sightedness, their incapacity to carry losses and low leadership skill.

Here let us go a few years back and ask the question, what have been done in the name of free press and journalism during those years? As all Ethiopians saw the situation very closely, its with the public’s domain. Here lets not also forget some f the presses that were thrown out of the market by the public for their explicit and graphic sexual reports that are clearly in breach of our traditions (culture).

It’s confusing really to who the free press, other than themselves, pass the blame for their downfall, considering their antics involved inciting violence and conflict between Ethiopia nation, nationalities and people; thereby putting in jeopardy the peace they have right now, stalling their development and loosening their democratic unity. Not only this.

We are well aware of their attempt to prepare the public for another round of fighting. We can’t deny this, as there is no use in denying or covering this obvious truth.

We Ethiopians are people who have lived together for long. Our tradition and belief reflects our unity and tolerance from our diversity. What the so-called free press came up at the time was to create a ruinous atmosphere that would destroy and tear down this togetherness of the people – although this effort of theirs has been to no avail.

Most of the free press; which is what these writers are lawyering for, were involved in these kind of riot and havoc activities, and as a result of this, they were spitted out by the public and government. On top of this, they have both professional and ethical problems. It’s naiveté to expect a certain government, which has the responsibility to guard its citizen and country, to let anyone do to counter this in the name of free press.

It’s also the responsibility of the government to stop some who are bent on wreaking havoc and inciting riot in the country using this grand profession that we call journalism; and hiding within the media. It’s not only it responsibility but also its duty.

Had the government didn’t take the necessary steps at the time and very bad things have happened, who would be the responsible body for it? This should also be taken in to account.

Most of the publishing press reports, at the time, had a ruinous connotation with a disastrous result. And today some of them which are tuned to those connotations are still at it – calling for riot (‘old habits die hard’).

These writers continue to say that the Ethiopian free press has went through various ups and downs. When these so-called writers tell us this, (they do so by citing what the call as foreign “analysts”.

Who is closer than us to probe in to the state of our country’s free press, to check for problems associated with it, and to explore into the reasons that had been a hinder for to it to operate as it should? Why the need for using what the foreigners tell us for checking or measuring our own?

First of all, as both the Ethiopian free press and democratic order building process has a long way to go, it’s expected for it to have some short comings; especially considering its feeble age. Even the developed countries with their 200 years of experience, let alone a country that has only now started democratic building process, can’t say they have reached perfection.

This is because they haven’t built a complete democracy or a perfect free press. Its inevitable to have some short comings within this process. Although it mustn’t be used as an excuse, but expecting flawless democracy in a country in its feeble stage of democracy building process is naiveté.

Its safe to say that we all agree on the fact that waging a smear campaign through spewing unfounded rumors that would taint our country’s image and our people’s togetherness. This is because journalism is also profession that gives priority to national interest.

Considering this, it’s very disappointing to see our “journalists” pointing their pens and months for sinister acts in a way that’s beneficial for the neo-liberalists.

As we have all seen, many press people have been rewarded for serving the western (wishes and interests), and I think currently there would be some that are in the run for this award. Their former action which involves compromising the people’s and country’s interest for personal gains is a testament for it. Not only this.

As it can be recalled, there were some free press that instead of just arguing with or other people’s argument or outlook, they indulge in belittling the person’s ethnic, religion, or language; i.e. they spend their time degrading that person’s personality.

Although their number is not as prominent as those days, but we are currently seeing some of them back in the picture. The rest, as a consequence to the government’s measure, the public’s rejection and their inability to sustain losses have thrown them out of the game for good.

Here, it’s important to realize one thing we should come to an agreement that the press cannot be used to overthrow the constitution and constitutional system through inciting riot by making it a hotbed of extremists and terrorists.

If these “writers”, as they usually claim, are asking for the government to let the criminals, that operate under the guise of free press, do whatever they want that includes breaking the law, then it’s something else. To not take measure on someone (entity) that advocates hot and havoc is not expected of a government that responsible and human.

It should not be forgotten that it’s the government’s job, right, duty and responsibility to bring terrorists and their collaborators to justice. And when the government is doing this, it should be taken as stifling the press.

What the real world or the profession of journalism tells us is that free press doesn’t mean free pass or free marauding. Free press is not an item that we use to have our own way and thinking at the expense of others by producing lies and even by disregarding others sovereign right through unethical action.

But, I suppose for these so-called “writers”, this is exactly what free press means. For them and their partners, so long as they don’t get a suitable environment to realize their own sinister objectives, free press is not free. Is it through ruinous results that free press can be realized, according to their distorted view?

As any sane person can understand, developmental journalism is a developing tool for people and governments that have yet to fully develop their democratic order. It’s an outlook that can motivate (mobilize) the people for development and reach the highest mountain of development (growth). And this is how this tool has been used by any country of the world.

In addition to this, it advocates a way to guarantee the public’s togetherness, a way to strengthen the democratic building process and a way to ensure mutual growth and concern among the people; and it works around this objective. This thinking is a path even taken by countries we call today developed.

There hasn’t been any democratic order or free press that was built in a day. Although this is not an apology for the problems, it should be taken into account the fact that plotting to realize their day job, which is political rioting; by amplifying ten thousand times every snag we hit so that it can be complex and confusing to the public and the government, is not right.

Trying to collect undeserved benefit by going outside the line of the free press and democracy building process and law is not appropriate. It should not be forgotten that, as there’s stern relationship between development and democracy, it’s expected of any popular and democratic press philosophy, in order to strive, to have a way that harmonizes development and democracy and every other aspects of the reality. This is not to say that the press should be stifled to ensure developmental and democratic order.

Considering that there’s only “Criminal journalist” and that free press is not stifled the issue is not debatable. As it has been said many times, there is no jailed journalist for doing his/her job; but only for getting involved in terrorist activities. And this has got nothing to do with stifling the press in any way.

Similarly, making people; that exerts huge effort to incite violence between citizens by using illegal reports for ruinous outcome, accountable should not be taken as stifling the press – as it’s an issue of observing the rule of law. Some of them (the “Writers”) by citing a writer named “Sen”, claim that democratic culture is festered through public debate held on the free press.

This is true. It’s not debatable that public debate and hard discussion that’s based on rationality is a must if the democracy building process is to be facilitated further. When citizens are discussing and debating freely, there will be eureka moments that can help the development and move the democracy up a notch.

However, in a country where some would be journalists are seen using the free press for their own political business, thinking these kinds of things will amount to nothing except for being an excuse for extremists.

So, it’s safe to say that the “writers” will not be jailed for criticizing EPRDF; and what should be known here is that, what makes a person accountable is not his writing but his criminal activity. As the press of any country works within the legal framework, advocating harmful agenda in the name of free press is a bookable offense.

The “writers” claims that EPRDF has passed two bills in addition to working hard to move the issue of free press from the public domain, by citing the “Mass Media and Freedom of Information Proclamation”.

It’s true that the government has passed this proclamation. However this provision is passed in an effort to create an environment that would foster the country’s development and democracy it’s not to more free press out of the public domain.

It’s a provision that’s passed with the intention of allowing every journalist to get detailed information from any government organ, and for a government sector to give the necessary information. Every country formulates rules and laws to legalize the free press. It is not an Ethiopian phenomenon only.

So, looking at the provision in a negative light is a mistake - except if there’s a desire to be above the law. And this is not possible. We should not forget what happened in Rwanda and recently in Kenya, when the free press operated outside of the legal framework.

As the objective of simply showering condemnation on a provision that’s formulated to help the media operate freely and healthy has to do with avoiding accountability, this can’t be acceptable in any way.

There is no reason to tie up the government measure to make the lackeys of anti-Ethiopian propagating forces and sides that are bent on causing a ruinous outcome between peoples, in accordance with the rule and law of the country, with stifling the press.   

Whether one is a journalist or not, he/she still has to be make accountable, as long as he/she breaks the law. As with other countries of the world, the rule of law should be upheld here in Ethiopia too. And finally, everybody should know that the government action of making criminals accountable to the law should be applauded, not condemned – as it is its duty.

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