An Initiative of Ethiopian Media Council: A Media Regulatory Body without the Existence of Media is a Joke

Last week “The Capital”, one of the three weekly English newspapers ran an article about “Members of Ethiopian Media decision to set up media council and enact code of conduct” where they describe the council as a self-regulatory body which set to examine complaints submitted to the media council by the public or any concerned individuals and encourages the conduct of professional journalism.

I would say this initiative is a laughable yet a superior cause! You might question why a superior cause is a ridiculous one. Here is why…

In a country where every private journalist and independent newspapers are shuttered by the government the idea of establishing media council and enacting code of conduct is pathetic, meaningless, sickening and denigrating. Looking the rough media landscape in which Ethiopian journalists are forced to operate it might help you understand my claims.

According to CPJ research Ethiopia is a country which has driven more journalists into exile over the past decade than any other nation in the world; harassment and constant threat of imprisonment being major reasons of journalists to flee. Besides Ethiopia is a country where mere news coverage of rebel and opposition groups is criminalized under controversial 2009 anti-terrorism law. State media and pro-government journalists are consistently accusing exiled journalists for having hidden political agenda and or sometimes pro-government journalists describe exiled journalists as terrorism supporters.

So I want to challenge the organizers of the initiative in public how can one establish a media council where seventy nine journalists exiled just in a decade 2001-11 and eleven journalists imprisoned on terrorism related charges? Depressingly despite the frozen Ethiopian media environment the government is still poignant for a stronger clampdown on private media. With authorities tormenting journalists and shuttering, Feteh, a pitiable weekly Amharic newspaper left right and centre, Ethiopian journalists now faced another loss of a democratic right, their right to freedom of speech and information. How can you institute an independent media council which is essential to journalistic alliance?

I would suggest you to cancel the complete idea of establishing a media council! It’s no more than a particularly self-righteous and hypocritical group which shouts to give the impression of “We are striving for a professional journalism even in a destitute situation” I see the purpose of the media council is to self –regulate to help keep at a distance government’s interference with the media content, ? Ooh, journalists even blogger are getting abused, they put up with the brunt of unconstitutional media laws:Help them fight to take back their basic human right before you start to regulate yourselves!

Exiled/Diasporic Media Regulatory Body A Possibility?

Ethiopian journalists who are exiled to America/Europe have taken the internet as an opportunity to set up an online media that not only serve as important sources of information for many ordinary Ethiopians and traditional journalists back home but that also reveal sensitive government information. It is the diaspora media that first broke the ongoing where is Prime Minster Meles Zenawi saga. This indicates the influence of the Ethiopian diasporic/exiled media on Ethiopian politics. What is missing, however, —is recognition the role which the Ethiopian diaspora media can play in showing how self-regulation of media protects the right of journalists to be independent, and to be judged for professional mistakes not by those in politics but by their colleagues. Consequently it is not uncommon these days to see people blame the Ethiopian diasporic media for their continuous shabby and low standards journalism: inaccurate, unfair and irresponsible reporting lack/ inadequate media code and code in respect of being unaligned to the internationally agreed press/media protocols and independent appeal mechanism, among others.

Hence I wonder if they consider grabbing hold the of idea of establishing a media council from pro-government group of people and take the initiative to get rid of the political riff-raff from media control and work with the sole purpose as an objective diaspora media monitoring body.

How and who to follow on the whereabouts of Meles Zenawi

Forty-one days passed since Prime Minster Meles Zenawi was seen on public. In the days after his last appearance on Ethiopian State Television ETV, social media particularly Facebook and Twitter was used to give sensitive information about Meles Zenawi’s health, the hospital where he is being treated, the kind and the cause of his ailment, his being deceased are among other emerging topics related to Meles Zenawi. Had twitter have a feature for trending-topics of East Africa, I am sure Meles Zenawi would have reached the level of trending-topic; despite his name high on twitter Ethiopians do not yet know where Meles Zenawi is, what happened to him whether he is dead or alive.

Yesterday many had hoped Bereket Simon, a government spokesman would give a hint about the whereabouts of the head of the government but he refused to give any details about Prime Minister Meles’ whereabouts or the cause his ailment. This definitely would set other speculations in motion as people already start to say if Prime Minster Meles Zenawi is in a good condition and recuperating bring him on television. So who shall we follow for trustworthiness on PM Meles Zenawi government media? Exile Media or Diaspora Media depending on the tag you wish to bestow or the social media?

A deliberately deprived Ethiopian local news media have generated cascade of news on the whereabouts of PM Meles Zenawi that are becoming increasingly tough to be trusted or not to be trusted depending on the news you lean to trust. Before the dust settles on the whereabouts of Meles Zenawi’s I find it enthusing to reflect on the wider significance of the where is Meles Zenawi saga because as the particles do come down to rest, they will surly cover up some real and possibly endemic problems of Ethiopia journalism. I have found no better summary of the present limbo than this Mesfen Negash’e tweet.

Mesfin listed all major media that are involved in major twists of Meles Zenawi saga and tweeted

The fate of Meles Zenawi carries a heavy price for [Ethiopian] media asserting his status, credibility on balance

Yet again who shall we trust then and how

Well let’s start with theoretical foundations for a trustworthiness system Scholar & practitioner Patrick has quoted from Panagiotis Metaxas & Eni Mustafaraj research document and wrote:

Our concept of trustworthiness comes from the epistemology of knowledge. When we believe that some piece of information is trustworthy (e.g., true, or mostly true), we do so for intrinsic and/or extrinsic reasons. Intrinsic reasons are those that we acknowledge because they agree with our own prior experience or belief. Extrinsic reasons are those that we accept because we trust the conveyor of the information. If we have limited information about the conveyor of information, we look for a combination of independent sources that may support the information we receive (e.g., we employ “triangulation” of the information paths). In the design of our system we aim to automatize as much as possible the process of determining the reasons that support the information we receive. We define as trustworthy, information that is deemed reliable enough (i.e., with some probability) to justify action by the receiver in the future. In other words, trustworthiness is observable through actions.

It looks the Prime Minister will not come and disprove all the speculations about his whereabouts and his wellbeing anytime soon. If trustworthiness cannot be observable through actions according to the above theory of Extrinsic reasons you can look for a combination of independent sources that may support the information you receive (e.g., you employ “triangulation” of the information paths). Hence in my opinion it is sensible to hunt for rumors on Twitter and Facebook but make sure to pay attention to the following list of social media pages and mainstream media outlets.

There is a general belief that “Truthiness” has some natural buoyancy on social media particularly on twitter truth “floats to the top” hence I will start with twitter pages:
Mohammed Ademo
Tamrat G. Giorgis
Abiye Teklemariam
Getachew T. Alemu
Elies Kifle
Bruh Yihunbelay
Tesfalem Waldyes
Daniel Berhane
SM 4 New Ethiopia
On Facebook pay attention to the posts of Jawar Mohammed

To have a perspective on the matter you must give a due attention for the following mainstream media

Ethiopian Television
Addis Fortune with particular spotlight on Fine Line
De Birahan
The Ethiopian Reporter
Global Voices

Finally use your head!