Ethiopia: opposition finds challenges in getting local media coverage [Article 19 East Africa]

Faced with a tightly government controlled media, limited internet access and low circulation of newspapers, Ethiopia’s opposition has been forced to seek alternative ways of disseminating its message to the electorate in preparation for the May 2015 elections.

“It is a horrifying situation at this time. Most private media are closed, journalists have left the country because of the continuous harassment and physical threats they face because of their job while the rest are in prison,” said Asrat Abreham, spokesperson of Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) political party. His sentiment is echoed by Yonatan Tesfaye, spokesperson of Blue party. “It has been done on purpose. The government does not want a free media since after the 2005 election when the media was comparatively free and public awareness was high.”

The government maintains a complete monopoly on the media of the country including the Ethiopian Broadcast Corporation (EBC) which is the sole national television and radio station, which reaches a much larger part of the population, is under the absolute manipulation of the ruling party. The regional television stations are controlled by the regional governments as well. Nearly all FM radio stations in Ethiopia are controlled by the government or by those with interests and close links to the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

So, what is left for the opposition?
“Because the government has closed most independent media and the ruling party is in control of the state media, our party tries to disseminate information regarding the election through diaspora media,” said Younatan. “We are also publishing the defunct newspaper of the blue party online.”

Finote NetsanetOut of the 75 registered opposition parties excluding parties which are affiliates to the government, only UDJ is running its own newspapers even though the number of printed copies does not exceed two thousand copies every week.

According to Asrat, the party is trying to maintain its own printing outlet and publish its weekly newspaper, Finote Netsanet which came back to circulation after the state-owned Berhanena Selam printing company refused to continue printing it in August 2012. The party has also started to publish an additional newspaper called Millions of Voice both in hard copies and online. “We are trying to use all means available so that we spread our messages, including the social media,” says Asrat Abraham.

Other media outlets that most opposition parties are using include Voice of America (VOA) and Germany’s radio Deutsche Welle, which broadcast to Ethiopia in Amharic on Short Wave. In the 2010 election the government was accused of jamming both stations.

Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) which broadcasts 24 hours per day in Amharic from studios in Amsterdam, London and Washington has also positively covered the opposition parties. The station, which went on air for the first time in 2010, has frequently complained of attempts by the Ethiopian government to jam its signal. Moreover, the government claims ESAT is a Trojan horse for Ginbot 7 which is labeled as a terrorist group.

Both Asrat and Yonatan agree that unless freedom of expression is respected and free media exists in the country, it is very difficult to have a democratic government that respects the rights of its citizens. “The international community and all concerned bodies should pressure the government to respect these rights and give opportunities for the oppositions use the state media equally,” they recommend.

Filed in: Current Affairs / News