After more than eight decades of state of lull in media history in the country, now Ethiopian has commissioned a media policy which is obviously the first of its kind. Better late than never. Ethiopia was indeed not short of polices of every kind but the media policy is a latecomer.
The current policy is solidly based on the democratic provisions of the constitution and other proclamations that included press freedom proclamation, proclamation on advertisements and the broadcast proclamation. In effect, the policy document summarizes the major tents of the above-mentioned laws along with the objectives of the policy, goals, principles, strategic significance of the role of the media in Ethiopia.
Some of the provisions of the policy including allotting broadcast permits for religious institutions are already put in practice. The merit of the policy rests on the fact it would help various media agencies to once again visit their editorial polices for compliance and reciprocity with national media policy.
The policy is indeed far from completeness and perfectness in that there are major issues that are not either mentioned or adequately explained. For instance, the importance and the role of self-regulation and peer review as an important component of media accountability have not been properly amplified. The role of the associations of journalists has mentioned as a passing remark.
The policy document notes that political parties are not allowed to own their own media outlets but the previous practice has shown that a number of commercial media centers have been airing policy issues and political strategies that could be traced back to certain opposition political parties in the country. As long as their purposes are served, these political parties do not need to own any media company.
The policy document does mention the need for incentives for media companies but does not mention the areas of the incentives. The policy document states that the issuance of the media policy would be of value to provide a legal framework for promulgating more operational laws related to the Ethiopian media. This would mean that some of the legal provisions issued earlier need to be revisited and reviewed to create the necessary link between legal and policy issues pertaining to the media.
The document, unfortunately, takes the major purposes of media policy as goals in themselves mixing policy goals with purposes. Besides, the role to be played by citizens of Ethiopian origin in promoting the development of national media in section 2.4 of the policy is treated in a vague way with no clear indication of what specific role they can play in supporting local media outlets.
So far, the country lacks adequate legal provisions that would help to regulate the use of social media as a tool for learning and social development. In so many areas, for instance in World Wide Web systems and online media companies, the policy recognizes their importance but does not provide for a national policy towards these modern media technologies.
The policy does not mention how and who prepares strategies for various subsectors in the media. This is very important for regulating and streamlining media outputs and activities in the country. The major strategies in the policy document are enumerated in five sentences that do not specify the content, standards and implementation modalities thereof.
Over the last two years, the electronic media has grown in a relative proportion to the print media that is grappling with skyrocketing of prices for raw materials for print media. The policy document mentions about import substitution in the area but does not provide for short term solutions that need urgent attention.
It is clear that media policy for a developing country like Ethiopia should be tailored to the objective conditions in the country. All stakeholders, government or the private sector need to work together to introduce a comprehensive improvement in the media sector. The general public outlook on the media outlets in the country needs to be overhauled through time. The policy document needs to stress on the need for human resource development not only in media management but also on the level of reporters who are relatively aware of the theoretical contents of the media profession but have so far exhibited lack of practical field training particularly in the journalistic education at the institutes of higher learning.
One of the most important factors to be considered is the importance of owning the policy document as a tool for the national development objectives of the country. In this regard the implementation of the policy and strategy needs to be reviewed regularly every year for possible improvements to ensure the role of the media in accelerating the social consciousness of the public. The policy document as I stated earlier is long overdue but the fact that media policy is now in place ignites hope for further development of the Ethiopian media.
Editor's Note: The views entertained in this article do not necessarily reflect the stance of The Ethiopian Herald