It has been 23 years since the government allowed private newspapers and magazines to be published without any restriction. There is no denying that the private press has made a useful contribution during these years despite the raft of hurdles it faced along the way. It still continues to tread on this bumpy road. The era when hundreds of press products were published is now gone and only a handful are in circulation.
Article 29 of the Ethiopian constitution explicitly guarantees freedom of the press and provides that the press shall, as an institution, enjoy legal protection to ensure its operational independence and its capacity to entertain diverse opinions.
This provision is a replica of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Article 29 enshrines the right to hold opinions without interference, as well as the right to freedom of expression without any interference including freedom to seek, receive and impart information through any medium of one’s choice. It also prohibits any form of censorship and stipulates that any citizen who violates any legal limitations on the exercise of these rights may be held liable under the law.
The government recently charged five magazines and a newspaper on counts of defamation and other charges. In my view the government should have not charged these private media outlets but should have been a bit softer and talked to them about their concerns first so that they wouldn’t make any other mistake in the future.
Even if the media houses do something wrong in the process of news gathering, the government again should be more understanding and teach media what they feel should be changed or what they are expecting from journalists.
The private press is only 23 years old and is very young. However being young won’t give anyone an excuse to do harm, but the government should support the private media as its own so that the media can develop to the required or accepted standard.
As it has been said “When press freedom is respected questions of democracy and human rights will be answered. When press freedom is respected citizens will be able to express their views responsibly. When press freedom is respected transparency and accountability will be given an important place. When press freedom is respected the democratization process will be sustained. Therefore, we call on all Ethiopians to defend press freedom vigilantly”.