Ardent passion and a labor of love for Journalism

December 27, 2018 Africa , Interviews , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , OTHER

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Ambo Mekasa interviews Million Terefe Gobena



Ethiopia is replete with gifted and brilliant citizens who have greatly served their country without confining themselves to ethnic and religious enclaves. They work for a great nation under the umbrella of one flag imbued with love for one another and their motherland. Though they underwent numerous and gruesome challenges, Ethiopians have a great affectionate bond and respect for each other.


The 1970s witnessed the pinpoint in Ethiopian Literature. Coming up with masterpieces and journalistic works the generation at that time had written history in golden ink.


This journalist has been scouting for such personalities from different walks of life to cater to the interest of esteemed readers.


Today’s guest is senior journalist Million Terefe Gobena. Million is one of the prominent journalists of the country, standing tall for her passionate love for her profession. Her love for her country is unparalleled.


She was born in 1955 at the then Wollega province. She was one of the outshining students during those days. Upon successful completion of her elementary and secondary school educations in Wollega, she joined Addis Ababa University where she studied applied sociology. She later joined The Ethiopian Radio as a reporter. Million earned her MA in Transformational Leadership and Change from Greenwich University and BA in Leadership Development from WYMLC. She has various certificates and diplomas from different European countries and is a career broadcasting journalist by profession. This journalist had the opportunity to chat with Million Tefere Gobena:



How did you join journalism and develop the skill?


Million: Honestly speaking it was not intentional. I was good at my education, but journalism was the farthest thing from my mind. From early childhood, my dream was to make a medical doctor out of myself. Seeing an advertisement for a vacant post in The Ethiopian Radio, halfheartedly I submitted an application paper. Many applicants sat for the exam. I and my two friends were called to start the job right away.


Though Journalism was not my major subject, taking training, reading literature on journalism, emulating veteran journalists here and abroad, I fitted in well as a radio journalist. Colleagues and others prominent journalists like Baalu Girma, appreciating my journalistic knack, sweet talked me to start television news casting.


Even if it was by a twist of fate I started the job and in due course it dawned on me that journalism was my calling. Day in and day out, I was passionately honing my skills. In addition, I was basking under the guidance of veteran journalists. They were my university and training center. Staffers bequeathed to me everything needed to be a sought-after journalist. Also, my audience were not only my guide, but also a source of energy. They used to give invaluable feedback for the programs I presented. One thing unique about journalism is that in the profession one always keeps on learning.



How was the working atmosphere then? Could you describe to us the chemistry among the journalists at that time?


Million: Media is all about teamwork. Especially when one is in broadcasting media, clicking with one another is a must. The journalist cannot handle the task alone. S/he has to be backed by the technical, financial and transport wings. The task entails a collective responsibility for a successful outcome. Therefore, the task presupposes a good team spirit.


The working atmosphere at the time was awesome. I stop short of words to express how family and friends we were. Our senior journalists were like brothers and sisters to us. They were also motherly and fatherly to us. Especially Mulugeta Lule, Ambassador Tesfeye Tadesse and Hailemariam Goshu and so many others were like brothers and mentors to me. For love of the labor and lending a hand to each other, it was not uncommon for the then journalists to cover the works of others when the need arose.



What were the challenges you faced during those days? I have heard that you had been interviewing prominent officials, some of which used to shy away, apprehensive of the hard talk?


Million: I interviewed more than twelve leaders of foreign countries and many high ranking government officials of the country including President Mengistu Hailemariam and the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.


Actually, I do not think they were afraid of the interview. But I could sense the exposure could make some a bit jumpy. Also, everyone prefers to keep secrets. Selecting interviewees, choosing institutions and digging deep for ample information were the big challenges.


Moreover, as a beat journalist, one has to know one’s area of specialization on top of general knowledge and current information. Many were cooperative and resourceful enough to announce their institutions and create awareness. But few were backpedaling from giving information. They tried to evade public exposure.


Journalism obligates traveling to different places to conduct interviews and produce documentaries. Due to this, I faced different challenges such as rough terrain and disagreeable weather, among others. As a journalist one could breathe her/his last while on duty. Being a journalist is being a warrior; especially when one reports sensitive issues whereby one could suffer attacks. It was era of writing on political issues either in facts or fiction, tantamount to spelling one’s own death. That was how we lost the well-known journalist and published author Baalu Girma.



There were few female journalists at that time could you tell us about that?


Million: There were prominent journalists like Asegedech Yeberta and Bizu Wendimagagnew. They were noted for effective and creative programs. Though few, there were women journalists at the helm of the profession denied equal recognition as their male counterparts.


Many risked their lives in a bid to make quality programs crisscrossing the country even going to far-flung corners. I am grateful to God that I used to work with such outstanding women journalists. I developed courage and confidence. In general, there were journalists from the fair sex group who impacted the country in many ways. Currently, I am witnessing many female journalists who are very impressive and appreciable.



You were working as a newscaster on top of other journalistic engagements. How was it? People say you were bold and photogenic.


Million: I believe the audience is the supreme judge. Respectfully, I do not disagree with what people say. The profession tasks journalists’ time, energy, finance and the like. It requires full exertion. I used to ask what is useful or edifying to the people. I do not really like the fad “What matters is simply covering the air time!” Air time is extremely costly and information is disseminated to millions. So, messages conveyed in the media must aim at creating or deepening awareness. Previous day’s media was using airtime to inform, educate, and entertain properly and efficiently. Nowadays, I see media squander most of the time on commercial and entertainments aspects.


I used to read different books and articles to beef up my journalistic muscles. In addition, there were editorial or consultation groups who were guiding us as to what to do and how to do things in order to have a good program and news.



How do you assess journalism past and present?


Million: Of course answering this requires a thorough study. One needs to be objective to comment well. But, I can say a few things from what I have been observing.


The former were run and managed by great professionalism. There were pioneer media personnel who learnt journalism in different western countries. They were committed and discharged their duties with great passion. But financial constraints and a dearth of institutions were apparent. Journalists like Baalu Girma, Asegedech Yeberta, Haile Mariam Goshu, Getachew Hailemariam and others of the time were more committed to real professionalism. They shared the advanced knowledge they acquired abroad with fellow journalists. I like the past.


In the past, citizens used to give focal attention to media outlets, because they were sources of credible information and government policies. Though, there were no universities and training centers for journalists, in many ways, seniors and bosses were role models for aspiring journalists. We were just like siblings working together enjoying a healthy relation with our bosses. All journalists were entertaining love for their country. What they did for their country is unforgettable.


Nowadays, media outlets are ubiquitous. There are many formal informal medias like; FMs Televisions, Social Media and others. Some are gigantic. But when it comes to managing programs, most of them seem amateurish. Before reform, fawning was also seen overshadowing professionalism. Most Media outlets were loyal to the government, not to the people, nor were they for the people.


Though situations were not so conducive, few journalists were committed to serving the people. But young journalists who were working for the sake of professionalism were few. On the other hand, there are journalists who are educated and passionate enough. So, it needs more training and practice to grow it up.


I want to suggest one thing on the current Media outlets based on what I have seen and observed. Media has its own standard languages of transmission. For example there are programs in Amharic, Afan Oromo, English, among others. Public Media are formal ones. Any invited guest should use such standard language. But we are hearing many jargons as well as language switching and mixing. Such kind of thing is not professional. Media language must not be colloquial. Otherwise it misleads and doesn’t covey the message and confuses the audience. Some journalists are even mixing languages and confusing the audience. I think the issue should be given due attention not to confuse others. So, things must be mended.



What must be done to promote journalism down the road? What do you advise youths of this generation, reportedly, that do not seem to have inclination to reading habits?


Million: I think the issue must not only be for the sake of improving journalism but all aspects of life. Reading is the basic thing for expanding one’s horizon of thinking. If you read more, you will learn how to develop skills and creativity. Reading makes one a full person. So, everyone should nurture the habit of reading and inherit the trend to offsprings.


For youngsters who want to be seasoned and well versed journalists, I want to convey the message that reading is essential and obligatory. In the context of our country, journalists are working on every aspect like politics, economy, etc, so reading is decisive to journalists. Journalists should know everything well.


We have to emulate the examples set by developed countries. For example children in the developed countries are obliged to read different books and read out the precis in schools. Such a technique helps them to develop their reading habits and imbibe knowledge. This is very important for the quality of education. That is why they are more creative and analytical. We need to change and improve our reading habits. Otherwise, it will be difficult to take one’s personal life as well as the country to new heights of development.


Students in developed countries are not allowed to get exposed to things above their age limit. Here, our children are watching everything on social media, which exposes them to unwanted habits. Though many books are available in bookshops, the reading habits of this generation seem to have gone downhill. Social media, that proves to have preoccupied the generation, is making them addicted to it.


Different book corners and libraries breathe life into the reading habits of society. There has to be ways of distributing books, articles, magazines, newspapers and essays to everyone. In this regard, schools and public institutions need to work hard.



What do you think are the benefits of press freedom and freedom of expression?


Million: Freedom of expression is one of the basic rights of human beings. In our case it was a denied opportunity. For the sake of freedom of expression many have been killed, subjected to mayhem, displaced and jailed. It helps nurture thinking out of the box which is essential; it develops and widens one’s scope and perspective. No one should be subjected to punitive measures for expressing her/his ideas. It is a way of sharing knowledge. Though, our voices were stifled for far too long, we have now started to breathe the oxygen of democracy. However, it should be managed and handled properly within the legal framework of freedom of expression.


Ethiopia has been chosen to mark the World Press Freedom day next year, but previously the country was one of the most dangerous countries for journalists. I think the undergoing changes are galvanizing the attention of the world which is why Ethiopia got the chance to be a host country. In my view, this is one of the boons of the reform in the country.


Freedom of expression is incomparable to anything. Media outlets should be well oriented of freedom of expression, because they educate, entertain, sensitize and develop the nation. Citizens should work on how they could see to their rights, at the same time obeying the law, as rights and obligations should go hand in hand.




How do you see undergoing changes in the country?


Million: For most I would like to thank God and express regard and high respect to those who sacrificed a lot and brought about the change we are enjoying today. They sacrificed their lives on the altar of freedom. May their souls rest in peace! As it is evident, the former two regimes Derg and EPRDF were more of revolutionaries. The measures both took were total destructions of the previous governments’ systems. They not only handled justice awkwardly, but killed the cultural and democratic values systems of the country.


Besides, the bonds among the ethnic groups in the country had been systematically dismantled, especially during the course of the last twenty seven years. Now, the reform in the country is reestablishing the values, systems and norms of the society. Thanks to the reformists, they are reigniting the chemistry among different ethnic groups made to see each other with arched brows. They are trying to introduce human and democratic rights and justice for all, in which all peace loving citizens and the nation at large should hold hand in hand.


No doubt, the change is marvelous, which the country was eagerly looking forward to. It is like shifting from a pitch dark night to broad daylight. The past system was full of corruption. A few were taking the law into their hands. They were cruelly deciding on the fate of country and citizens. Realizing they were killing, imprisoning, chasing citizens. Worse, they were chopping up the body parts of individuals who opposed them. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy and his team are working to transform the country. He is working on ways of strengthening relations among the citizens and atoning for the misdeeds of the past in the country.


The government should press ahead with holding accountable corrupt individuals who aborted the hope and fate of the country towards development. Moreover, the task should be done in such a way measures create awareness and trigger hate for corruption. In general, the reform in the country is plausible and we should work together to ensure change.



There are works to empower women in Ethiopia, how do you assess that?


Million: That is another great achievement. It is an indication of the current reform by the Premier. Women account for more than half the population of the world. But when it comes to economic and political empowerment, women are on the lower rungs of the ladder. They are not allowed to do things to their full potential. But, what is started is appreciable and should be recognized. Previously, the attitude of the societies towards women was bad.


Today, thanks to God 50 percent of the executive and the judiciary branch of the government is held by competitive women. The appointed minsters and the first woman president would bring new values or assets to the country. The premier is a man who walks his talk. He has made new history regarding women empowerment. In the history of the country these are big leaps taken by the government under reform. We are witnessing the saying “Teaching a woman is teaching a family”; I am happy to see this in my life. We have to support and stand by them to propel change in the country.



Could you name some journalists that you appreciate?


Million: There were/are lots of individuals who had/have done all what they could to transform the country’s media. The country should count itself blessed in having them. There are many seasoned journalists who did great jobs in the history of the country. To me they were walking encyclopedias. Gedamu Abreha, Baalu Girma, Asegedech Yeberta, Mulugeta Lule, Ambassador Tesfaye Tadesse, Hailemariam Goshu, Paulos Gnogno, are but to mention few of the legends whom I admire most. I feel grateful to their unreserved sharing of their knowledge and experience.



Why did you quit the profession?


Million: When officials began to say “What matters is the political commitment of the journalist not his/her talent!”







Million Terefe Gobena


Ambo Mekasa

EPA reporter, earning his BA in English Language and Literature from Arsi University.

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