The number of satellite TV broadcasters has seen dramatic increase in just few years but scholars question whether their local news and program contents are designed in a way to promote the social, political and economic aspects of the country beyond entertaining the public and making profits.
Today, 13 private and public satellite TV channels are on air, of which five of them were licensed this year with Walta and ENN televisions airing programmes already while Fana TV is on transmission test. Dimtse Woyane and Arki televisions are also going through establishment process.
A recent assessment by the Ethiopian Broadcast Authority indicates that most of the channels deal with social, economic and political affairs but some excessively focus on entertainment for appealing to a wider audience.
Though the channels have their own autonomous format, they need to play their social responsibility role of promoting the wellbeing of the public via their contents. But this has not been the case so far, believes Dr. Teshager Shiferaw Journalism Lecturer at Addis Ababa University. "Some of the media houses tend to be more concerned on entertainment than serious but important issues of the public. They are market oriented that's why they fail to provide relevant and timely information."
Most of the channels are privately owned and of entertainment purpose while the public ones seem to lose public trust. I think what we have is the same format with different channels. The media houses just come up with stories of soft nature.
Regardless of their negative impacts on the public, these channels are gaining the ears and hearts of audiences. "This is mainly due to their sensational content, Dr. Teshager says. However for him influential media is about having a news and edutainment content that would contribute to the wellbeing of the society.
In fact some people believe that the growth in number of channels would widen alternative and choice for viewers. The increasing number of the TV channels would create various media choices that help the public to get its preference, agrees Dr. Teshager.
Getachew Misganaw is a viewer. He categorizes the channels as either entertainers or information providers. For him channels such as ENN are performing well to some extent in terms of reporting and breaking new developments and raising controversial issues.
On the other hand the contents of some TV channels are far cry from the Ethiopian context such as culture and politics, he notes.
Natinael Yohannes is another audience. He says, these days, some of the media organizations solely stick to transmission of foreign movies. Even if he is not fond of watching TV channels, he believes the content of some media houses are of superficial. In a developing country like Ethiopia, to carry sensational stories and programmes is not timely because developmental issues are the nation's prioritys, Dr. Teshager notes.
But the media organizations believe that they are somehow playing their social responsibility role and are optimistic that there would be improvements in contents if things get better.
Yayesew Shimelis, ENN News Room Head believes that his channel is playing its social responsibility role through providing relevant and timely information when new developments and stories unfold. "We try to come up with investigative reports. "We try to break a story before it goes viral on the social media," he adds.
Nahoo TV Owner and CEO Wendosen Kassaye TV station is trying to promote social value and nationalism. "Most of our programs push for unity and strong social cohesion. Already having various program, the channel plans to have news airtime soon," he says.
However, despite their internal limitations according to the media personalities, the media are facing various external challenges. Officials refuse to give valid information for the media. Access to information is very limited. And it would be hard to come up with stories in the absence of information, underscores Yayesew.
If there is one good thing about the media, it is the increase in number. Otherwise , it is hard to function under current circumstance given to the limited information access and lack of sponsorship.
It is the entertainment programs that attract the audience and sponsors. It is difficult to get sponsorship for critical and valuable TV programs that carries nation's socio-economic affairs, says Yayesew.
To address the challenges, Dr. Teshager advises journalists to upgrade themselves and Media Council to play its role in empowering the media to serve the public efficiently and professionally.
Government Affairs Communication Public Relation Director Mehamed Seid is skeptical over the media's role in serving the needs of the people. He says some of the satellite televisions are mainly concerned with sport drama, and music.
In fact, one of their challenges to come up with credible and relevant stories is reluctance of officials to give information. There are even times that my office is forced to write recommendation letter requesting officials to respond to the claims of the media.
The office encourages officials to be more cooperative and open to the media and is organizing discussion forum to address shortcomings facing the industry.
As the country continues to modernize its analogue with digital system and plans to increase the satellite TV stations to 20, Ethiopia's media need to review its operation to serve the public interest.