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The devil lurking in the horizon camouflaged under press freedom

By Dirbaba M. - dirbabarm@gmail.com
Tigrai Online, November 25, 2013

“An Antonov Airplane packed with hundreds of millions of Ethiopian Birr arrives at Mekele Airport.” This was the headline of Addis Zena newspaper published in March 2005. Following the news, people in the country got furious believing that the ruling party assuming that it would loss the forthcoming election and thus got involved in pillaging the national assets of the country.

Just few days after the publication of the story, I met the then editor-in-chief of Addis Zena when both of us went to cover a press conference called by Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) at the Hilton Hotel in Addis Ababa.  After exchanging friendly greetings, I took the opportunity of our early arrival to learn about his crooked motive behind the publication of the big lie. His answer was astonishing. He told me as he had three possible targets in the outcome of the 2005 National election.

The initial one is aimed at delegitimizing the ruling party by manipulating and creating stories against the regime so as to influence voters and the entire population to lose confidence on the government and at the same time by manipulating the opinions of the masses attempt to constitute the opposition parties, in particular CUD, the true ruling power of the country.

According to him his second objective behind such falsifications of stories was aimed at facilitating the ground for subsequent overthrow of the government by charging it for election fraud, if it had won the election. He was very confident as ‘they’ had enormous colorful strategies that could bring down the government to its doom following the election.

If all things went wrong, he knew it the government would file charges against his professional misconduct that he said he would utilize the option to escape from the country or take asylum in one of the western embassies that were backing the conspiracy for his eventual destiny to the USA – his dream land.

During the time, it was the order of the day for spreading such kinds of ill-driven misinformation and fabrication of news as well as the editorial headlines of most ‘private newspapers’, western media, Internet, web sites, social media, mobile communications as well as foreign based Ethiopian-centered media were consistently engaged in spreading countless “truth” about mass falsifications filing baseless stories whose gist of phenomenon was psychic contagion aimed at getting activated in instilling in the mind of the population anger, anarchy, and chaos following the election.

The mass falsifications were targeting the whole structure of the government; the political, economic and military so as to achieve ground breaking consequence in the country.  It was based on the propaganda strategy that supports consistent transmissions of mass falsifications so as to bring the eventual belief of people in the big lie.

It was an indisputable fact that the actors behind the 2005 national election conspiracy were not only the media. Countless non-state actors, human rights champions, press freedom advocators, right watchdogs, independent ‘experts’, foreign election observers as well as many others were actively engaged in the whole technique of the failed coup d’état.

Fortunately, all the conspiracy schemes failed to yield any result ‘they’ had dreamed of. Though, it cost the country and its people unforgettable price to secure the sovereignty of the country.  The then editor-in-chief of Addis Zena was able to make one of his ambitions a reality – he was imprisoned for some months following the election and after being released on bail, he managed to escape to Nairobi and after a while, his dream comes true. He was granted asylum in the USA and he is currently in the USA working as one of the newscasters of ESAT where he continues to fabricate stories that are designed to destabilize the country. Paradoxically, the United States of America the major ‘advocator’ of freedom of expression and human rights is the best place to wage information war against a sovereign nation.

When the country’s law file charges against those journalists and accordingly imprisoned some like that of the Addis Zena’s editor-in-chief who were fueling destabilization of the country through their falsification reports according to the law of the land, as usual the media and humanitarian ‘watchdogs’ bombast their condemnations against the government as if the safety and protection of the hundreds of millions of Ethiopians were not a concern or do not deserve peaceful coexistences.

The role of the media during the 2005 national election took two divergent approaches. While the public media facilitated its professional role such as creating the public sphere for both opposition parties and the ruling party equal space for political debates held among political parties on various policy issues that were aired live in the country’s national television, the private press supported by foreign elements and led by color revolution nostalgia was only filing negative reports against the ruling party and the government.

Fortunately, Ethiopia skillfully managed to survive from such organized conspiracy coordinated by foreign elements in three branches notably non-governmental organizations, the media and covert operatives that are the essential modern techniques of a coup d’état. Moreover, Ethiopia since then, for the first time, is enjoying economic, social and political rights throughout its history through its comprehensive development plans focusing on agriculture-led economic growth laying the fertile ground for a long-lasting solution to the country’s chronic poverty and food insecurity.

Contrary to what its adversaries wished for Ethiopia is having an economic growth accelerating to 10 percent, thanks to largely to improved agricultural output combined with heavy public investments in infrastructure. The country becomes one of Africa’s fastest growing economies last year. The transformation taking place in the country testifies the dynamism of the people. On top of that Ethiopia’s robust economic growth owes a great deal to the strong performance of its agricultural sector. Tens of hundreds of millions smallholders are able to produce more than 95 percent of agricultural output of the country contributing nearly half of the national GDP.

Amidst such historical transformation, some of the international organizations, ‘experts’ as well as the transnational media are still blind to acknowledge the positive developmental gains. Paradoxically, it continues to be part of their main duties to negatively portray the country in all aspects of social, economic and political spectrum for the past two decades.

The so-called INGO, humans rights organizations like Human Rights Watch, Oakland Institute, international press institute and the like for the past two decades have waged war against Ethiopia. These organizations have a Western-centric tinge to everything they do. Human rights, freedom of expression etc are the major tools of their fallacious that are serving as "ideational vectors of influence", trying to skillfully maneuver the realities by maintaining constant criticism against Ethiopia for achieving their own principled ends.

While the some ‘watchdogs’ further went to direct the policy change in Ethiopia notably the land tenure system to get out of the government ownership criticizing absurdly as the policy is worsening poverty, the International press freedom watches such as International Press Institute (IPI) try to impose their ideological missions through the name of press freedom.

The recently concluded the African Media Leaders Forum (AMLF), held in Addis Ababa between November 6-8, 2013 under the theme “Media and the African Renaissance” clearly depicts the intentions of the International Press Institute (IPI), World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) as being no different than their previous ideological missions. While the theme had been about the role of the media in African development over the past decades, the discussion was intentionally hijacked to evade from the main theme and to deal with subjects that perpetuate the stereotype of Africa.

Without even mentioning the role of the media in promoting the current transformation of the continent, the discussions went beyond the theme of the conference rather focusing on issues that could facilitate the creation of the "fifth column press" under the protection of "freedom of press" slogan and full scale "take no prisoners" approach to use of press influence as the most vulnerable forth branch of government to undermine the legitimacy of the countries in Africa.

Despite strong criticism by African delegates against the dominance of the neo-liberal and neo-colonial approaches in the discussions through the adoption of the agendas by western elements, the unexpected recommendations were yet another induction of how dangerously the neo-liberal advocates planned once again to try their previously failed attempt of color revolution in the upcoming Ethiopian Parliamentary Election of the 2015.  The IPI/WAN-IFRA urged the Ethiopian government to release all journalists convicted under the anti-terrorism laws, advocate for strong partnership among private newspapers and publishers to step up cooperation to improve professionalism, independence, and to reduce print expenses.

Ridiculously, the two organizations that have no working partnership with the Ethiopian media agreed to help improve the quality of political reporting of the media ahead of the scheduled parliamentary elections in 2015 and urged donor organizations to follow suit. What is ridiculous about such initiative was the organizations only were interested in the upcoming elections as if nothing is active in the country. Without any shame the IPI/WAN-IFRA representatives only saw there was a broad commitment among journalists only to electoral coverage based on sound, in-depth reporting.

IPI/WAN-IFRA feel no compunction to disregard the level of journalistic professionalism that must be achieved in order to obtain balanced, objective and fair reportage on the development as well as other social and economical events that occur in the country. This is because their modus operandi is so entrenched in color revolution that they don’t feel disgraceful to do anything different or right.   

It is an unfortunate truth that since at least the issuance of the Papal Bull of 1455, when the Pope of Rome authorized Spain and Portugal to go out into the world to bring salvation to the heathens, and set up new territories of the crown, word of mouth initially and now sophisticated transnational media, maintain a negative reportage policy when the subject is Africa.

The tradition still continues without a wink of modification even at the current period of African renaissance neglecting the positive developments in Africa blindly engulfed in stereotype and bombast, bias and disdain that are often distort and woof of media coverage when the continent is the subject. The continuation of the stereotypical reporting of the western media on Africa was witnessed during the media coverage of the Nairobi supermarket terrorist attacks. While there were no even a one minute or a single graphic image on international media coverage of the 9/11 catastrophe where more than 6,000 people died, the recent western media reports on Nairobi attacks were depicting bodies, including faces of those killed in the supermarket a clear indicators of the inferior consideration for African lives.

It was also practiced in more sophisticated forms of transnational media, social media, Internet and other broadcast fashions. What makes the current approach more aggressive is the media tools are effectively implemented as the fourth-column within the state to launch revolution from the outside against the ‘unfriendly’ countries. In this regard, the rise of NGOs as international actors as well as shapers of national policy is one of the most important trends in international relations and also fueling local popular pressure for change.

Julia Wilson, CEO of Wilson Global Communications acknowledged that “Many people believe the media has wittingly or unwittingly played a particularly debilitating role in shaping Africa’s perception as the ‘Dark Continent’ of war, famine, disease and corruption that has severely hindered foreign direct investment, trade, and Diaspora engagement. But those of us who have worked and lived in Africa, and leading economists, acknowledge that Africa continues to demonstrate success in stable governments, rising GDP, and is tapped as the new frontier for trade and investment in the 21st Century.”

If there is a genuine support to facilitate the role of the media in African development in general and in Ethiopia in particular and there should be international effort initially to stop the stereotypical reporting of the western media and its preoccupation with the negative images of the continent that poses a threat to Africa’s development by distorting international perception.

The paradox is always a belief among the western media to see themselves as the standards of impartiality and they are in general regarded by many as credible sources of news and analysis claiming to be free of any pressure from individual and group interests despite their consistent favoritism and flawed reporting they carry out.

If International Press Institute and its cohorts are concerned about the standards of the international media practice and if they are genuinely concerned about Africans, they should at least exert some efforts to say ‘no’ for the centuries old practice of the western Media moguls, who can find only the negative when Africa is the subject and create the continent’s image almost clearly to serve their capitalistic greed while simultaneously denigrating the continent’s global image.

Africans do not need political dictation. Africa is rising. What we need from the international actors is financial aid and technological infrastructure to implement a program at sustaining the growth and international presence of the African media rather than imputes of ideological thoughts. It is important to remind them what the Ethiopian National Journalists Union president noted that "No one has a better understanding than us about the state of Ethiopian journalists and press freedom in the country.” The fact in the ground is very contrary to what IPI and its cohorts perceive. The ENJU president stipulated that “The statement [of IPI and its cohorts] neither represents us nor reflects the real situation in the country. We take pride in the fact that there is no journalist in prison in Ethiopia in connection with their professional duty."

The intention of the IPI and its cohorts was solely that of the intruder. President of Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association (EFPJA) likened the activity of the international groups to an intervention in internal affairs saying “The media landscape in Ethiopia is not restrictive. It is up to stakeholders in the media to make the most of it."

The forum was also hijacked by IPI as a penetration just to amplify only the demands of the few that have similar interests with them so as to so as to pry open space for the issues that could maximize the negative image of the country’s public sphere discourse denying the opinion that could reflect the reality.  This "boomerang pattern" was condemned by participants. "Journalists representing the independent media in the country were neglected to voice their opinion. The president of EFPJA condemned the IPI saying "The panel chaired by Alison Bethel of IPI was conducted rather unfairly. We were not given a chance to voice our opinion while others painted a skewed image of the media landscape in Ethiopia."

The goal of the forum was taken as an attempt to undermine the development efforts of the country and also facilitating the ground for the possible ‘color revolution’ strategy in the upcoming election so as to sow anti-government movement well ahead.   

The demand of the international organizations for forming unity among the publishers and the ‘private’ press is an agenda aimed at forming elements that may serve as possible “anti-fraud front” in the upcoming election. It is clear from this crooked intention of IPI and its cohorts they are planning to involve in a far deeper control of the media as this needs to be exercised long ahead to the election day as they have learnt from their failed 2005 color revolution tactics that dissenting views and falsification printed and published during only election periods were not working to serve their purpose.

It was also obvious that the various activities orchestrated during the election by opposition political parties were often organized operations deliberately staged for the media and usually funded and controlled by transnational networks of so-called non-governmental organizations as well as covert operatives which are in turn instruments of Western power.

It is not surprising to see such organizations blinded with ideological mission to react in that regard since they are parts of the emissaries working at the hub of advocacy networks capitalizing on opportunity structures offered by "internationalism", acting as "ideational vectors of influence", and maintaining constant criticism of vulnerable "target states" that are ‘unfriendly’.

This strong network of advocators of the neoliberals those having a firm grip on world resources and also dictate what the world should be told and not have strong solidarity in praising some and condemning others. It is obvious that what we see in the transnational media is not the fact rather the dictation of the conglomerates on the world’s opinion and knowledge of what goes on in the world, promoting their ideals and institutions along the way.

However, they should be aware that despite their spending very large sums of money, as well as technical, logistical and strategic support, for such crooked intentions, history has shown that Ethiopian would never surrender its independence.

As ‘Enough about press freedom’ was the message from African heads of states to the conference, as Shakespeare rightly noted in his play Othello my message to IPI is "IPI performed its role, IPI can go to hell."

The devil lurking in the horizon camouflaged under press freedom