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“We need to have a Code of Conduct and Media Council set up in order to help balance freedom of the press and responsibility,”

Amare Aregawi, General Manager of Reporter newspaper said discussing the rationale of the Code of Conduct in the one day seminar held on Friday, August 3, at Intercontinental Hotel.

Amare said that on the one hand the Press law gives full freedom to journalists and on the other hand there is a limit. “The Law prohibits us from writing in contravention to the national security. Assume that the country is plunged in to war. Assume also that journalists get information on where the Ethiopian heavy armaments are located. Informing the public about this is telling the enemy the country’s secret. The journalist is now in a dilemma between the rights to inform the public and disclosing this information would mean hurting the security of the country. This in short concerns the issue of balancing press freedom and responsibility,” he said.

Media Council is a self-regulatory body. It examines complaints submitted to the media Council by the public or any concerned individuals and encourages the conduct of professional journalism.

“There was an attempt by the government to establish a statutory Press Council. But after considering the request of the journalists to have their own self regulatory body, the government gave its original plan,” Debebe Habtemichael, one of the members of the coordinating body and legal advisor said. The importance of the Code of Conduct and Media Council is now becoming crucial because of the increased importance of media in Ethiopia, Debebe added.

Members of the Media Council, as described in the regulation, include journalists associations, religious institutions, schools of journalism, chambers, civic organizations, women’s and youth associations as well as government representatives.

The sad story is that it took formation of the Media Council and the Code of Conduct nearly eight years to reach this final stage.

“After the government allowed the journalists to establish their own Media Council, establishment was not possible in the last 8 years because of a number of hurdles. One major problem was the bickering of journalists because of political differences for years. That has now reached to a point of saturation. We can say we are close to form the Media Council,” Mimi Sibhatu, Chair of the Coordinating committee said.

The Code of Conduct that has 12 different articles was thoroughly discussed on Friday. By far and large most of the articles are internationally accepted ones like avoid receiving inducement, partiality, hatred based on ethnicity, religion , sex and political standing plus keeping sources secret. In the Code of Conduct journalists are advised to understand the legal maxim that says ‘a person is innocent until it is proved guilty by the court.’  Respecting the privacy of the person is one of the most controversial issues in the world. The Ethiopian Code of Conduct insists journalists must not violate this inalienable right of a person.