Free Press: With or without a free rein?

August 22, 2018 Africa , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS

Reuters photo



Alem Hailu G/Kristos



What is the significance of a free press? How could it be translated into action mindful of responsibilities? Why do some say it has to be wedded with a Regulatory Agency?


This reporter approached seasoned and young journalists with the question: ‘What is your take on past trends and ways forward?’


Kebede Anise was Editor-in-Chief of Ethiopia Tikdem Gazette. He began his explanation with Thomas Jefferson’s famous quote “…were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without a newspaper, I prefer a free press without a government!” This quote highlights the role of a free press in keeping the government in check and helping a country sail its ship of development to safe waters navigating through hurdles.


He said unless the foundation of a building is solid enough it will turn into rubble. By the same token, devoid of a free press how could a country stand on its own feet? A nation is not a shooting star that sparks for a while and retreats to the background. It has to continue. To do so, it relies heavily on the unity, strength and vision-implementation bent of its children.


He further stated that journalists play an active role to the aforementioned effect. In the absence of the circulation of free ideas, in the unavailability of proper work flow and without a smooth information dissemination and sharing, how could a country stand on its own feet? It is citizens that handle the nation building task. Free press and free state comprise the oxygen of democracy. Accordingly, to keep Ethiopia going these ingredients are decisive. Unless our country resuscitates, proves strong and cuts a healthy posture, our fate will be sealed.


“Mending wrong turns such as liberating the media, the new prime minister Dr Abiy Ahmed, who popped up on the political scene, is doing a commendable task to get the country on the right track. He is allowing the country to standout in the global arena. God bless him! But the impish few forming a circle and some serving Trojan horses of the wicked try to create hurdles and clashes here and there like the despot from JigJiga,” he added.


He noted that enunciating love, atoning for the misdeeds perpetrated by the self-seeking and merciless, ushering in peace and parrying ethnic conflicts, the Premier is trying his level best to let the country stride on the avenue of all-inclusive prosperity. It is only those that have ‘gone off their rockers’ that resist the winning formula- unity.


He further noted, media has to come to the forefront to collect, analyze and strengthen such positive outlooks. “That is why I stress without a strong media that knows its responsibilities, a nation is as good as dead. Hence, stifling media with censorship is inimical to democracy and good governance. The incumbent, upon coming to power, did abolish censorship but later on, under the smokescreen of image building, began tacitly imposing that whosoever fails to second me is the country’s enemy. It had also been brazen in turning post placement based on affiliation than merit. ‘We only need his/her loyalty,” it was saying. This was not good. Such folly shows government was in the ditch. But now, the reformed government is striving to normalize things.


Journalist-turned-instructor Abera Wendewossen said there is a prognosis that the source of conflicts down the road would no longer be between countries and blocks like the ones created during the cold war but based on ethnic bickering, religious wrangling and group tensions. When the population boom surfaces, people will make a point confining themselves in ethnic and religious circles. This fact is palpable in the present day East Africa. Media outlets play a key role in promoting peace or adding fuel to the fire. “I believe to a certain degree media should be abstemious especially on ethnic and tribal issues. Especially in our country, noted for ethnic diversity, this could not underplayed. It suffices to see cases in Rwanda and Kenya,” he further said.


He noted, for instance after serving as midwife to the coming into life of a new leadership in the country, some media outlets are exhibiting a lapse dilating on an ethnic group of their interest. As never before, they are belaboring issues of race, tribe and religion. Observably, they are inciting people-to-people clashes. This is uncharacteristic of Ethiopians. Especially, this disposition is highly manifest on Facebook. There has to be a regulatory agency that controls both the broadcast and print media. Though, I do not support censorship, media outlets should not be allowed to run amok coming up with their own principles and interests. This is going astray.


To the question “Will it not been exercising censorship to put in place a regulatory body?” Abera responded’ when we reflect on the upturn of outlooks among the government and citizens, it must be reminiscent of the fact that a rippling effect will be evidenced in the regulatory body. The media and the regulatory body could click each other to a better result. In a country where ethnic diversity is manifested, downplaying regulation could have an adverse effect. Particularly, in the social media those with ill motives could get a fortress to disseminate divisive and hatred-and-clashes provoking sentiments.’


Also, journalists in the mainstream media must be prudent rather than fully echoing mobs’ justice. They have to analyze and prognose what is unfolding with a cool head. They have to be disinterested and consistent in their reporting.


Another journalist who wants to be unanimous said “Sponsors must not wield unnecessary influences on the private media contravening ideals of free press!”


Kebede reflected “Previously, giving a ring for a corrupt government official used to suffice to hack through the bureaucratic logjams. But now to carry out a task worth one million Birr one has to pay five hundred thousand Birr to penetrate through the labyrinth! It seems a mockery of development. Fortunately, a breath of fresh air is sweeping through Ethiopia. Like the Americans, we have to say “The buck stops here!” and fight out corruption and step up fair taxation. To this effect, exploiting free press must not be put on the back burner.”


Regarding corruption, Abera said that the reports we hear seem to be speculation as they are not substantiated with well documented evidence to start legal procedures. There has to be a system that allows journalists to work hand-in-glove with the police, government officials and lawyers. Investigative journalism has to be strengthened. Regarding this, government officials have to be forthcoming in giving information in line with the information law. Gradually, when the trend gets credence, journalists will not face challenges in getting information.





Alem Hailu G/Kristos

A published poet, novelist, editor, translator of masterpieces, literary critic, playwright and journalist from Ethiopia. M.A holder in literature, Addis Ababa University.

Looking for a traditional publisher of a collection of poems. My novel: ‘Hope from the debris of hopelessness’.

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