Government and Media representatives discuss challenges ahead
The Ethiopian Media Council, which will primarily focus on media accountability, is to be established in the country for the first time.
The council is expected to create awareness about freedom of expression among the public and act as a mediator and arbitrator in cases where disputes and grievances with relation to media arise.
For about a year and a half, the Ethiopian Media Council Organizing Committee, whose mandate was renewed by an assembly of 30 media organizations six months into its formation, has been doing the groundwork to realize this objective. It has been consulting with all relevant stakeholders in the sector and conferring with media experts abroad, among other things, to finalize the process of creating a Media Council. The council will be determined after a final workshop is held in a week’s time, as all the major consultative exercises have been accomplished.
It is to be remembered that the Ethiopian Media Council Organizing Committee was selected by participants from the media and civil society at a meeting jointly called by the Ethiopian Journalists Association and the Ethiopian Free Journalists Association less than two years ago.
According to Mimi Sebhatu, Chairperson of the Organizing Committee, Deputy CEO of ZAMI Public Connections and Director of ZAMI Multi-Media, the upcoming workshop will address the remaining outstanding issues. “The workshop will be focusing on how to acquire funds to administer the Council in a sustainable way. We will also be setting the date for the commencement of operations and settle some other remaining issues,” she informed Capital. The council will have twelve seats. Four will be occupied by the media and apportionment of the rest of the seats will be decided at the workshop and is expected to be evenly distributed among civil society and other relevant bodies. This council is expected to play a significant role in the development of the media industry. As members of the council will be voluntary signatories, any grievances and dissatisfactions amongst themselves, from the public or the government will be reported to the council and the council’s ombudsmen will have the authority to mediate and arbitrate. It is believed that this would somehow reduce, if not completely bring to a halt, cases ending up in court. Furthermore, the council will be engaged in capacity building through the training of its members and indirectly creating awareness about freedom of expression.
At a discussion forum convened on April 24 at the Hilton Addis, media representatives and government officials held discussions and debated on the actual reasons that hindered the development of Media in Ethiopia. The government claimed that the major reason for the lack of development of the media sector was a dearth in leadership skills among media leaders and managers. “Of course, there are several other challenges. But it would be difficult for me to say that there are many media managers, public or private, that have adequate modern media management skills and knowledge,” Bereket Simon, Minister of the Office for Government Communications Affairs, said at the forum. The Minister said that all media have been given the opportunity to grow. “There needs to be a serious and fundamental interest for change and development among the media,” he added. He also reminded attendees that the establishment of such a council was late in the coming.
Woldu Yimesel, General Manager of Fana Broadcasting Company, said that the government should have actively supported the development of media, which it could have done, in various ways. According to him, over the last two decades, access-to-information has been very limited for the media. He also argued that, even though there are elements of democracy which enable the media to operate, there are also undemocratic elements which have hampered its development. “As the country is going through the democratic process, there are democratic values and undemocratic values as well. Therefore, we think that, instead of the government claiming lack of media development on the deficiency of modern managerial and leadership skills among media managers, it should primarily and in all fairness, look into the environment that media outlets are operating in.” Woldu did concede that there were limitations in modern leadership and managerial skills in the sector, but stressed that in conjunction, other impeding factors which are totally out of the control of the media, should be addressed.
Mimi agreed with Woldu’s point of view and added to the list of challenges the sector faces. “If you ask me about my organization, we have a well-organized manual, a favorable working environment, a structured editorial policy and code of conduct, with capable journalists who are free of any personal pressure,” she notified Capital. Nevertheless, she said the government has to offer incentives, both for public and private media, to demonstrate its commitment, especially at the beginning. “The process of taxation on media-related equipment, which is quite expensive, access to broadband internet, and so on so forth are among the challenges the media have to deal with,” she said.
Bereket Simon, who revealed that more than 1 billion birr has been invested by the government to increase television coverage in the country recently from 42 percent to 80 percent, said the Ethiopian government is setting up the infrastructure to create additional options for the public and will lease it to private operators. “We are in the process of selecting an efficient digital technology and the tools and applications it will require. It will take some months, if not a year, to increase the number of channels that will be available.” However, attendants of the forum also mentioned the need for additional options available to the private sector other than leasing the infrastructure the government is working on to offer them. “Private operators who have the financial capacity should be allowed to set up their own infrastructure within set guidelines. Unless such options are available, it would ultimately be perceived that government control still exists somehow,” said Mimi in conclusion.