Ethiopia: Statement of Fact On the Suspension of Addis Standard Content Publication & Subsequent Discussion With Ethiopian Media Authority

What happened?

On July 15, the license and registration directorate of the Ethiopian media Authority (EMA) called the General Manager of JAKENN Publishing PLC, the publishers of Addis Standard publication, requesting members of Addis Standard online publication to come to EMA office with the copy of the certificate of registration that Addis Standard online received on May 28/2021.

Accordingly with the understanding that the meeting request was administrative matter, a team of three: the heads of Finance and Administration and Marketing departments, as well as one assistant to the finance and administration, went to the office with the said certificate.

Upon arrival, the head of the directorate informed the team that EMA was recalling the certificate of registration and that Addis Standard was to suspend its activities of publishing contents due to allegations by EMA content monitoring team. Later that day the EMA issued a statement claiming Addis Standard publication was advancing the agenda of TPLF, Tigray Regional State's ruling party which has been designated as a "terrorist organization" by the Ethiopian parliament, as well as using the term "Tigray Defense Force".

Pursuant to the order from the directorate, JAKENN Publishing PLC issued public notice announcing the temporary suspension of the content publications by Addis Standard.

How the decision violated the Ethiopian Media Law

The new media proclamation 1238/2021 stipulates that the Ethiopian Media Authority determines the licensing conditions of Broadcast Services - TV and Radio, whereas it is mandated to merely give certificate of recognition to online media outlets.

*Article 26 of the proclamation states that online media platforms are presumed legal even in the absence of a certificate of registration by EMA if it fails to issue one after an application is submitted.

*Article 22 Sub article 1 of the proclamation stipulates that the registration of online media shall not impose substantive restriction on the right to freedom of expression.

*Article 48 of the proclamation grants the media the right to express opinions and engage in critical reporting on various issues.

*Article 73 on "Administrative Measures" the proclamation states that "The Authority may step by step take, as may be appropriate, the following administrative measures, where a broadcasting service provider contravenes the provisions of this Proclamation and Regulations or Directives issued in accordance with this Proclamation:

a) issue a written warning;

b) impose administrative fine up to Birr 200,000(Two Hundred Thousand Birr);

c) suspend or terminate the program that violated the law;

d) suspend or revoke the license of the licensee that violets the law

It should be underlined that the above provision is pertinent only to broadcasting service providers and NOT online media content providers.

*Revoking, recalling or suspending certificates of registration is not the state mandate of the EMA, nor should such actions lead to the suspension of content publication.

On the critical role of EMA Board

*As per the new media proclamation, a Board of nine members shall be appointed by the House of People's Representatives (HoPR) and will be tasked with the management of EMA.

*According to Article 12, Sub article 1 of the proclamation, the Board shall have the final decision making authority.

*Sub article 5 of the same article mandates the Board to examine, review and decide on public complaints.

*Article 12 Sub article 6 of the proclamation requires the Board to "organize independent complaints hearing committee within the Authority which investigates any complaints of citizens and broadcasting service licensees related with media as well as monitoring results provided by the Authority and submit recommendations to the Board; make decisions based on the recommendations."

*However, although the new media proclamation 1238/2021 requires the establishment of such Board, it should be clear that as of the writing of this statement, a Board with such authority has not be constituted.

It is in the backdrop of this legal and procedural irregularities that EMA announced the reason for its decision based on "complaints and alarming trends" compiled through its monitoring findings, which it did not disclose to Addis Standard prior to its decision to order the suspension of content publication.

Through the use of extensive media statements, EMA also wrongly accused Addis Standard of advancing a terrorist group's agenda, and using the name "Tigray Defense forces," a terminology it has since restricted from being used by all media, both local and international.

The abrupt announcement of the authority about the suspension of Addis Standard content as well as remarks made by the deputy director general, Mr. Yonathan Tesfaye, on interviews given to different media outlets and organizations is in direct violation of Article 72 of the media proclamation which prohibits administrative actions and measures that adversely affect media freedom.

Although the authority claimed to have warned Addis Standard prior to ordering the suspension of its online content publication, as an online media Addis standard is not under the provisions related to such administrative measures that necessitate a written warning, penalty, suspension or revocation of license, which, in the first place, and as per the proclamation, are to be decided by the Board and not by EMA.

Meeting between EMA Director General and Deputy Director General & Addis Standard newsroom editors

On Monday July 19, two senior members of the Addis Standard newsroom: the editor-in-chief and product editor, conducted a successful and constructive meeting with Mr. Mohammed Idriss, Director General, and Mr. Yonathan Tesfaye, Deputy Director General, of the EMA.

In the meeting the following steps were agreed on:

Addis Standard members

Addis Standard members have explained the above irregularities of the decision to the EMA leadership.

Addis Standard members have expressed grave concern on the role of previous public statements by a senior member of EMA with serious allegations against Addis Standard.

Addis Standard members have expressed the need and the publication's unreserved cooperation for independent monitoring of its content to address such allegation when its is warranted and to prove wrong EMA's repeated statement over the last few days that the publication works to advance the agenda of an organization designated by parliament as a terrorist.

Addis Standard members have expressed that the publication takes such accusations seriously, and is determined to prove wrong the existence of this consequential allegations.

To that end Addis Standard members affirmed that the publication is more than ready to cooperate with EMA monitoring team to conduct an independent monitoring by providing guidance through its publication when requested with regard to specific publications to determine that such allegations are totally unfounded.

EMA leadership:

EMA leadership acknowledged that the action to suspend Addis Standard online content publication violated the legal procedure.

However, the leadership gave reason for the action with the argument that media publications do not supersede grave national security and sovereignty of the county. The EMA leadership stated that the specific content that led to the abrupt decision was being investigated and the outcome will be made public in due course.

EMA leadership informed Addis Standard on the importance of correcting the use of terminologies including "Tigray Defense Forces."

EMA leadership recognized that its written notice cautioning the media to refrain from the use of such terminologies was issued after a decision was taken against Addis Standard.

EMA leadership recognized that in the future proper means of notifying Addis Standard will be followed according to the Ethiopian media law.

EMA leadership affirmed that Addis Standard will receive back its certificate of registration on Wednesday July 21/2021.

EMA leadership stated that in a forthcoming statement EMA would address the allegations accusing Addis Standard of advancing the agenda and having affiliation with an organization which is designated by the Ethiopian parliament as a terrorist organization.

Final remark:

The meeting was held under a mutual respect and understanding of the seriousness of the issue under discussion both for EMA and Addis Standard online publication.

The Addis Standard publication affirms its commitment to adhere to and continue on the legacy of its well established ethical standard of journalism. It also affirmed to continue to play its vital role as an independent media in promoting and advancing efforts towards building a democratic and peaceful Ethiopia.

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