26 September 2017

Ethiopia: Striving to Agree On How Disagree

opinion

A leaked memo by the broadcasting regulatory body EBA (Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority) has gone viral on social media, and has created quite a rumpus among the politically pro-active section of the Ethiopian diaspora.

In what appears to be a no-nonsense effort to rein in on irresponsible journalists, EBA has admonished the Fourth Estate to refrain from making a drama out of crises by disseminating unfounded stories and by over-egging sporadic internecine conflicts for "they pose genuine threat to the nation's durable peace, to its revamped unity as well as to its hard-won federal constitutional structure".

No surprise then that the memo has encountered an unprecedented effusion of hue and cry from mostly, what one media-watcher calls, "media morons." Critics accuse EBA of chipping away their constitutional rights to free speech by arm-locking them to become cheer leaders for the EPRDF government. EBA, on the other hand, insists that it is simply discharging its statutory right of regulating the nation's print and electronic media.

EBA's memo may at first glance seem to be occasioned by irritation over how irresponsibly some sections of mainstream media have handled the recent internecine conflict between Oromos and Ethiopian Somalis in southern Ethiopia. But the truth of the matter remains that push had actually come to shove for EBA long ago as cowboy journalists kept on flouting EBA's guidelines. For the sake of not discouraging the growth of the media sector, EBA had on occasions turned a blind eye and deaf ear to their minor transgressions. But EBA's softly-softly approach towards yellow journalism was a no brainer and something drastic had to be made before it is too late. EBA's memo is therefore as timely as it is a clear warning: toe the civilised and responsible line or face the consequences of your wayward behaviour.

Nowhere in the democratic world had does freedom of speech will functions successfully without metes and bounds, for the world we live in have morphed into a circus of rogue journalists. Here where I reside - home to the Mother of All Parliaments - a raft of Acts of Parliaments and gagging orders prohibit a vibrant British fourth estate from disseminating news that are deemed to encroach on individual privacy. And to pose a threat to national security. I am reminded here by an episode in the relations between Government and media in the United Kingdom. From October 1988 to September 1994 the voices of representatives of Sinn Fein and several Irish republican and loyalist groups were banned by the British Government from being broadcast on television and radio in the United Kingdom. Mind you, by introducing a British experience, I am not guilty of comparing oranges and figs, but rather my intention is to high-light the acceptance, even in developed democracies, of the multiple needs to regulate the media which is in a continuous state of flux. Given the current state of the union, the case for a robust regulation in Ethiopia cannot be over emphasised. The need to protect our peace like our eye-balls is imperative.

Although relations between the Government and a medley crew of yellow journalists have for far too long remained at best adversarial, and at worst toxic, EPRDF's attested loyalty to free speech has, on the other hand, remained, and no doubt will continue to remain, in sync with its unflinching commitment and loyalty to pluralistic democracy for which - do never forget - they have literally paid in sweat, blood and tears.

An alert public must avail themselves of recent incidents which incidentally had followed close on the heels of the feel good factor that the New Year festivities had ushered in the length and breadth of Ethiopia, and use it as a learning curve. Turning Ethiopia into a bonfire waiting to happen serves no one but, our traditional enemies and Ethiopian quislings who are salivating to sneak in to power when we kill each other. In the light of this glaring fact, EBA's action, far from being condemned must be condoned by all peace-loving citizens.

We must not lose sight of the fact that there exists a gulf between yellow journalism's constitutional right to engage in smear and sneer crusade against EPRDF, and its never-ending urge to add fuel to the fire whenever an internecine conflict erupts.

The people of Ethiopia have paid Moloch-like sacrifice (an Old Testament figure for whom children were offered for sacrifice) for peace and stability. On the other hand, mainstream media's capability to inoculate the public with a blend of the politics of hate and chauvinism must not be underestimated. An irresponsible, erratic, and whimsical media is a liability to civilised discourse and a bane of democratisation. Its's high time then that "We must strive to agree on how we disagree."

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