• Wubset Taye (imprisoned in June 2011) - Awramba Times • Reeyot Alemu (imprisoned in June 2011) – Feteh • Eskinder Nega (imprisoned in September 2011) – Satenaw 9 • Yusuf Getachew (imprisoned in July 2012) - Muslim Affairs • Solomon Kebede (imprisoned in April 20130 – Muslim Affairs
PRESS FREEDOM IN ETHIOPIA IPI/WAN-IFRA Press Freedom Mission Report | November 2013 OVERVIEW From Nov. 3-6, 2013, the International Press Institute (IPI) and the World Association of Newspapers (WAN-IFRA) carried out a joint fact-finding mission to Ethiopia, where five journalists have been imprisoned since 2011 and numerous others have been tried in absentia under the country’s anti-terrorism law. The joint mission met with editors, journalists, lawyers, politicians and bloggers as well as associates of the imprisoned journalists to discuss the media climate in the country. The delegation also held meetings with diplomats and Redwan Hussien, the government spokesman who engaged in a frank, two-hour discussion with IPI and representatives of another organisation, the African Media Initiative.
The WAN-IFRA/IPI fact-finding mission represented a rare opportunity for two of the world’s leading press freedom and publishing organisations to get firsthand information and question journalists and other stakeholders. It also gave the delegation the opportunity to learn of the challenges journalists and publishers face, including self-censorship, restrictions on foreign media ownership and the dominant position played by state-run radio and television. The mission was held in advance of the African Media Leaders Forum, held Nov. 6-8 in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, which provided an additional platform for discussion of the challenges faced by Ethiopian journalists. The forum was also an opportunity to highlight the press freedom challenges in Ethiopia and across Africa through a panel chaired by IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie. A second panel,“Classified, Censored, Imprisoned - Why Media Laws Need Reform,” was chaired by WAN-IFRA Press Freedom Director Alison Meston.
PRESS FREEDOM IN ETHIOPIA IPI/WAN-IFRA Press Freedom Mission Report | November 2013 The mission comprised IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie and WAN-IFRA President Tomas Brunegård; IPI board members Ferial Haffajee, editor-in-chief of City Press in South Africa, and Kabiru Yusuf, chairman of Media Trust Ltd. in Nigeria; Alison Meston, press freedom director for WAN-IFRA; and Timothy Spence, IPI senior press freedom adviser for Africa and the Middle East. Regrettably, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s office did not respond to repeated requests for a meeting. But in an address before delegates of the AMLF, the prime minister said his government planned to increase the capacity of the media and is encouraging the news media to establish their own self-regulatory mechanisms. “There is always room for improvement and as a developing country, we are open to suggestions on improving our media industry,” said Hailemariam, making no mention of the imprisoned journalists. IPI/WAN-IFRA also were not granted access to the imprisoned journalists.
Despite the enormous challenges facing the news media in Ethiopia, the delegation did take note of many positive developments and sees that Ethiopia’s large population (85 million ) 1 and promising economy offer fertile territory for a successful and competitive news environment. The delegation noted that some newspapers report a healthy growth in advertising and readership. There is also greater evidence of a willingness of print publishers to cooperate on joint investment in printing presses to unlock the virtual monopoly held by the state. There is an evident desire among journalists themselves to improve professionalism and the quality of their media, as well as undertake professional exchanges with other African countries – although many acknowledged that government pressure and self-censorship continue to hold down the potential for quality, independent journalism. Based on the visit and numerous productive discussions, IPI and WAN-IFRA: • Call on the Ethiopian government to immediately free all journalists convicted under sedition provisions of the country’s 2009 anti-terrorism law. These journalists include Solomon Kebede, Wubset Taye, Reeyot Alemu, Eskinder Nega and Yusuf Getachew. • Urge the 547-member lower house of parliament to revamp the anti-terror law of 2009 to ensure that it does not trample on the rights of freedom of speech and assembly provided under Article 29 of the Constitution and further guaranteed under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the UN’s Universal Declaration, which Ethiopia has ratified. Specifically, lawmakers need to reconsider sections 2(6), 4 and 6 of the anti-terrorism law that have been used to prosecute dozens of journalists and opposition politicians who challenge government policies. • Call on Ethiopian lawmakers to review laws that bar foreign investment in media, measures that inhibit the development of an economically viable and diversified
United Nations Statistics Division (2011 estimate), http://data.un.org/CountryProfile.aspx? 1 crName=ethiopia#Summary. Ethiopia is Africa’s second most populous country, after Nigeria.
PRESS FREEDOM IN ETHIOPIA IPI/WAN-IFRA Press Freedom Mission Report | November 2013
market. • Urge the Ethiopian courts to ensure that rulings restrict press freedom only in cases of intentional incitement or clear participation in acts of terrorism, and that judges act independently to protect the public’s right to be informed about political dissent and acts of terrorism. • Urge Ethiopia’s often-fragmented and partisan media to step up cooperation to improve professionalism and independence, and to form a unified front to defend press freedom. • Call on publishers to pursue joint investment in media training, distribution and infrastructure. Increased cooperation between news organisations would foster a freer and more conducive environment for competition in news gathering and reporting. IPI and WAN-IFRA also stand by to help transform the media climate in Ethiopia, by offering help to lawmakers in revamping media and anti-terror legislation, and to assist in improving the quality of reporting, particularly ahead of scheduled parliamentary elections in 2015. While the IPI/WAN-IFRA representatives saw a broad commitment among journalists to electoral coverage based on sound, in-depth reporting, there is concern about the current level of determination to cover national elections through neutral but vigorous reporting, as well as a palpable fear of government reprisal. MISSION MEETINGS The IPI/WAN-IFRA fact-finding mission represented a rare opportunity for the leading press freedom and publishing organisations to get firsthand information and face-to-face contact with journalists and other stakeholders. It also gave the delegation the opportunity to freely discuss the challenges journalists and publishers face, including restrictions on foreign media ownership and near-total state dominance of radio and television. The joint mission met with more than 30 editors, journalists, lawyers, politicians and bloggers as well as associates of the imprisoned journalists to discuss media challenges in the country. The delegation also solicited written comments from the African Union rapporteur on freedom of expression, Pansy Tlakula, who was not in Addis Ababa during the mission. In addition, mission representatives met with: • Austrian Ambassador Dr. Gudrun Graf • US Ambassador Patricia M. Haslach • Heinz Habertheuer, head, Austrian Development Cooperation Office in Ethiopia • Redwan Hussien, spokesman for the Ethiopian government • Ambassador Jean-Baptiste Natama, chief of staff to the chairwoman of the African Union Commission However, due to the cautious political environment in the country, representatives of IPI and WAN-IFRA agreed to meet with journalists, politicians, media activists, lawyers and
PRESS FREEDOM IN ETHIOPIA IPI/WAN-IFRA Press Freedom Mission Report | November 2013
associates of the imprisoned journalists on the condition of anonymity. At least two 2 journalists who initially agreed to meet with the delegation declined at the last minute, expressing concern that they might be under surveillance by the security services. In a joint statement following the mission, IPI and WAN-IFRA expressed appreciation for the willingness of a broad cross-section of officials and media representatives to meet with the delegation but regretted that restrictions barred representatives from seeing the imprisoned journalists. IPI and WAN-IFRA also expressed appreciation for the Ethiopian government’s commitment to equitable and sustainable development in one of the world’s poorest countries. But the organisations also emphasised that strong news media, including an independent public broadcaster, play an invaluable role in achieving those objectives. 3 BACKGROUND Ethiopia has had a history of government control over the news media, with state radio, television and newspapers serving as little more than mouthpieces for those in power during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie and the military junta, or Derg, that followed him. After the overthrow of the Soviet-backed Derg, the transitional government introduced a new Constitution in 1995, with Article 29 providing for freedom of speech, expression and the media. But in practice the constitutional guarantees have provided little cover for journalists. 4 The news media – mostly newspapers and foreign-based Internet sites – did enjoy a period of relative openness in the decade after the constitution was ratified. Dozens of independent newspapers and opposition publications appeared in Addis Ababa, although many were of poor quality and struggled financially. Also around this time, the first private journalism training schools began to open while Addis Ababa University expanded its journalism programme with international support. IPI sent representatives to Ethiopia in 2004 to help shape emerging media legislation, including a provision that for the first time allowed a limited number of licences for private radio stations.
Anonymous sources of information are not ideal in either news coverage or reports such as this. However, IPI 2 and WAN-IFRA agreed to guard the identity of the non-public officials interviewed for this report. Unless oth- erwise quoted directly, the comments and observations in this report are backed by multiple sources and/or per- sonal observations of delegation members.
“IPI, WAN-IFRA end four-day Ethiopia mission with joint call for release of imprisoned journalists,” IPI, 3 Nov. 7, 2013, http://www.freemedia.at/home/singleview/article/ipi-wan-ifra-end-four-day-ethiopia-mission- with-joint-call-for-release-of-imprisoned-journalists.html
The country has also ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the UN’s Universal Dec 4 - laration.