26 September 2017

Ethiopia: Media Content Choice Vs Public Interest

Local media content choices vis-à-vis serving the public interest has been a subject of debate among the government and the media personnel. Why is that?

It has been over two decades since the media censorship was abolished in Ethiopia. And also freedom of the press and other mass media, and freedom of artistic creativity have been guaranteed under Article 29 (3) of the Constitution of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

Government Communication Affairs Office (GCAO) Minister Dr. Negeri Lencho underlines both state and private media outlets, by and large, have to serve public interest." Promoting development, good governance, democracy and fighting the abject poverty are the timely and major issues of the citizenry. "

Following the end of the censorship, public media has showed progress in terms of quality and content choice but, they have not so far met the public interest properly, the minister says, adding that the media have failed to understand public demands. .

Regarding state media reporting, Dr. Negeri indicates that they stick with development and relating successes. They have not played due role in exposing and making accountable those individuals who revert public power for personal gains via disseminating latest and in depth news, he adds.

Mekele University Journalism and Communication Lecturer Bereket Hassen also says : "Biased content is reported as the public media provides so often positive stories with extended news coverage while the private ones indulge in circulating negative news stories."

For the minister, reporting biases arise from the source of information. " Best content choice and quality of news depend heavily on the type of the available information ," he reiterates.

To overcome aforesaid challenge, Dr. Negeri points out that his office has been progressively organizing awareness raising sessions that will build data and communication system of source institutions. "In a recently held media forum, the premier urged all the public relations heads at the federal and states to provide timely and adequate information using available communication technology."

Indeed, GCAO is now undertaking across-the-board 'Media and Communication Reform'. Such move will for sure address the gap in media content choices across the country.

According to the minister, conducting comprehensive researches engaging various national universities' communication and journalism lecturers, private and public media leaders and professionals and the communication officers is crucial to identify all the gaps in media policy, law, and practice.

For Bereket, the government has to play a decisive role in supporting the private media. "Like other countries, government shall subsidize the private media so that they won't be hijacked for financial gains."

Investigating a giant corruption crime, for example, may demand the private media to allocate a large sum of money because having their sources here, the criminals may take sanctuary in some other countries. Reporting such stories with locally available information will end up with unbalanced news. So, the government needs to strengthen the economic capacity of the media as well as the reporters, he adds.

Apart from reporting biases, Dr. Negeri points out that less number of well professional media leaders as a setback. For instance, local media leaders do not often create enabling environment for the reporters to cover investigative stories.

" By putting public and national interests first, the media leaders have to encourage reporters to carry out investigative news overcoming senior state officials' pressure and relying on professional ethics," he adds.

A further bigger challenge that has contributed to content constraint is the level of professionalism among media practitioners. Despite the presence of some journalism schools, the media is operating largely with reporters that did not take journalism courses, according to Dr. Negeri.

The minister also stated that some of those who have taken the training do not show the passion journalism deserves. "The job of journalism is wrongly perceived here as some people want to be journalist just to gain in popularity and also take it as a stepping board to other profession ."

Bereket further questioned the occupational competence of journalism graduates, the effectiveness of the training given, and the relevance of the curriculum in use to the national demand. He recommends recurrent assessment of professional competence of the graduates before they join the media career and revision of the curriculum, if necessary, to meet the national demands.

Dr. Negeri disclosed that GCAO, in collaboration with Addis Ababa University, is offering trainings to narrow down the professionalism gaps.

Commending the responsible media, the minister censured the irresponsible ones, particularly certain circulations, that are highly fanatic and lacking any public interest. These always grab and entertain agendas that can potentially lead to religious or ethnic conflicts instead of propagating good governance, democracy and development as well as promoting cultural values.

"To avert this, we are doing preliminary tasks to provide support to our private media so that they can become competent and popular, as noticed in some countries," he says, adding that his government continues to hold discussions with all the executive body , the private and public media.

"Government strongly believes in creating conducive environment for private media. The media content choices have to go along with the public interest under any circumstances , " the minister reiterates.

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