6 October 2018

Ethiopia: Censorship Over for Theaters, Films - Producers Rejoice

The censorship order has been lifted as it contradicts an article in Ethiopia's constitution

The Addis Abeba Bureau of Culture & Tourism lifted censorship of film and theatre productions effective October 5, 2018, stating that it is "conceding to the constitution".

The censorship was lifted as it contradicts Ethiopia's constitution, which states that the freedom of the press, mass media and artistic creativity are "guaranteed" by Article 29 of the constitution, according to a new circular issued by Nebiyu Baye. Nebiyu, who replaced Gebretsadik Hagos, served as an assistant professor of theatre and film at Addis Abeba University and as head of the National Theater before moving to the culture & tourism office.

The basis for the original censorship was a regulation approved by the former head of the Bureau, Gebretsadik Hagos, and issued about five years ago, which required films and theaters to be submitted for approval prior to being presented in public. This was in contradiction to the constitution, which states that the "right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any media of his choice."

"The Bureau strictly believes in freedom of expression," said Siyum Temesgen, deputy head of the Bureau. "The Bureau wants to promote the industry and is ready to support the art community to shape society."

Players in the film industry applaud the move, saying that censorship has constrained the industry. One of those affected by it is the film "Taschershignalesh 2," which was banned from theatres three years ago.

It only stayed in cinemas for three days, including its premiere, before it was pulled off after a letter was received from the Bureau revoking its license, according to Habtamu Mamo, director of the film.

The film was produced at a cost of around 350,000 Br and took a year in the making that involved 300 professionals in the production process.

"I suffered economically, not to mention psychologically after the movie was pulled from theatres," Habtamu told Fortune.

Abere Adamu, president of the Ethiopian Writers' Association, agrees that the censorship was unwarranted.

"The censorship was unlawful from the beginning and against the constitution of the country," said Abere. "It never really was a professional evaluation as was claimed by officials of the tourism bureau," observed Abere.

Ethiopia's constitution states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression without any interference. But the right to freedom of expression can be limited "to protect the well-being of the youth and the honour and reputation of individuals." It also prohibits war propaganda and opinion intended to injure human dignity.

Beside censorship, players in the film industry usually point to lack of government support, cumbersome taxes on film equipment imported from overseas, weak copyright enforcement and competition from alternative avenues of entertainment, such as television and the internet.


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