Thursday, September 13, 2007

Addis Press Corps: My observations

by Mengedegna

Strangely, we continue to witness the deterioration of the free press at the hands of the few correspondents in this country who remain truly free.

The official restrictions on national press have been well-documented by human rights watchdog organizations, but little has been written on the shameful contributions made by Ethiopia's foreign correspondents. I am continually amazed by what I have observed here among this small circle of journalists—at the perpetual politicization of the news, and appalling distortions of the truth so easily excused by self-interested editors and comfortable journalists.

To shed some light on the workings of the Addis foreign press corps:

To secure accreditation, certain leading wire correspondents are encouraged by their editors to assure the appropriate Ministers of their intentions to write exclusively “happy” stories, which portray the country in a “favourable light”. Despite the blatantly inappropriate nature of such negotiations, these correspondents have, nevertheless, proven willing to go to great lengths to uphold this ludicrous promise to the Ethiopian government (the current social and political climate notwithstanding)—scrambling to uncover the happy stories in a place where, for so many, true happiness is found only in precious fleeting moments, development in a land where economic growth is virtually stagnant, and isolated incidents of political leniency in one of the world’s most repressive regimes.

Consequently, in Ethiopia, stories are routinely ignored or intentionally killed by the international wire services, whose journalists are even, on occasion, encouraged by bureau chiefs to re-interpret, or “contextualize” the more inflammatory responses of government spokesman (with a suggestive, “surely that is not what he actually meant!”)!

Even more worrying, is that Ambassadors and State Department officials also influence which events ultimately make it to print, ordering correspondents into silence or spinning stories for diplomatic advantage (recent examples being the arrest of NY Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman in the Ogeden region, which was deliberately suppressed by Ambassador Yamamoto for nearly a week, before finally being reported by blogger Ethio-Zagol, and the premature leaking of the ongoing political negotiations between the government and political prisoners).

Perhaps I am merely naïve, but something seems intrinsically wrong when major news outlets are encouraging their journalists to perpetually wine and dine government officials on the company expense account, while strictly advising them to avoid socializing with known opposition members and supporters, whose activities are to be regarded as automatically subversive.

It is simply unfathomable to me that the few foreign correspondents granted permission to work at length within the country (all citizens of free and democratic societies, lest they forget) could somehow begin with a "necessary, temporary effort to placate a hostile government", and in only a few months time end up functioning as government stooges—consciously neglecting subjects certain to upset the ruling party, and reluctantly investigating instances of widespread government brutality only upon official approval, with state-sponsored escorts.

The most popular justification amongst African press circles is clearly the claim that their organization would otherwise be expelled from the country. But, it seems to me, that if their primary agenda is actually to deliver unbiased regional news to their readers, the expulsion of their organization for merely documenting events as they unfold, is also, in itself, a strikingly accurate indication of national conditions. Regardless--since when did tailoring the news to suit the temperament of a brutal dictator become an acceptable compromise?

Yet, this has become more than acceptable practice here in Addis; in fact, it has become routine. And, naturally, when other publications (such as the Economist, New York Times or the Washington Post) break a controversial story first, the local correspondents can usually be found grumbling over drinks at the Sheraton Office Bar, berating said papers’ “unethical” means of gathering information and the “dangerous” community of in-country fixers, stringers, freelancers and bloggers on which they rely.


Anonymous said...

Dear CUD- how can you work with a dead party?

According to NPR radio, some CUD officials currently in America are claiming they want to start a "dialogue." They are quoted by Ethiomedia and NPR saying “we are still ready for political dialogue”

Ironically, they are telling this to western officials, not to the Ethiopian officials. No matter, let us all Ethiopians finally welcome the CUD leaders in America back to the civilized world!

Welcome back!!

It took you many years to decide to have a dialogue. Maybe it is the millennium bug. Who knows, but, all Ethiopians are saying – thank you for finally choosing the path of dialogue! As you can see in Ethiopia , more than eight opposition parties have been benefiting with their right to contest everything done by the ruling party. They have been thru various dialogues, especially since 2000 when the UEDF opposition party gained enough parliament seats to make the ruling party accountable in parliamentary level. The same has been happening in Ethiopia , in a much larger scale, since the 2005 election where various opposition parties took seats including the opposition UEDP-Medhin that took large shares of the Addis Ababa seats. Not only these two opposition parties, but also many more opposition parties including OFDM, SPDP and others have chosen political dialogue with the ruling party instead of violence. So it is the representatives of the majority of Ethiopians that are saying welcome to CUD Diaspora!

If you really mean it, we say thank you for caring about peaceful discourse and dialogue. If you really mean to abandon your alliance with armed groups like ONLF inside the AFD, we say welcome to you. If you really mean to abandon your slogan “ Tigre wede Mekele,” we say welcome to you. If you really mean to abandon claiming there is no need to speak in local Somali language for dialogue with our Somali-Ethiopians, then we say welcome to you because you can't speak spanish to a person who only knows English. If you really mean you abandoned your boycotts on Ethiopian businesses, your boycotts on everything Ethiopian , then we say welcome back to dialogue! If you really mean to abandon your rebellion, then we say welcome to you! If you really mean to abandon your wild claims that the ruling party is “dead" and nonexistent then we say welcome to you!

If you really mean it, all of us EPRDF supporters want to congratulate you for joining the rest of Ethiopia . All of us have been enjoying the fruits of the victory that came due to the blood sacrifice of not hundreds but thousands and thousands of allied patriotic EPRDF fighters who defeated the Derg. The patriots defeated the Derg after watching more than half a million northern Ethiopians perish in front of their eyes from the face of this earth – never to be seen again. If you want to calculate these big numbers, an Ethiopian population size equal to two country in 1986, Bahamas and Djibouti, COMBINED was the total amount of Ethiopians that perished in front of our eyes. The EPRDF patriots were also joined by other patriotic Ethiopians who watched near 150,000 more Ethiopians get executed by the Derg in the streets of Addis Ababa and everywhere in Ethiopia . All of these Ethiopians did not die fighting a foreign invader like Italy, Eritrea, Egypt or any country. They simply dropped dead everywhere in Ethiopia. So we invite you to join the freedom and democracy cemented by the sacrifice of your fellow brothers and sisters who died from 1974- 1991 to liberate us from Derg. It would be a shame if you decide not to enjoy this right given to you by the blood of your fellow Ethiopian patriots.

Meanwhile, we want to remind you how much you have hurt us the last two years of your existence. From telling a 5 million population of Tigrayans to leave and be confined in Tigray via your slogan “ Tigre wede mekele.” To your actions that initiated a revolution. To your alliance with the ONLF terrorists who have been assassinating courageous Somali-Ethiopian officials. These same courageous Somali-Ethiopian officials, who truly wanted to choose a path of dialogue to repair historical grievances, were re-buried by your choice to ally yourself with the ONLF assassinators who killed them for being "traitor Somalis."

Finally, let us remind you what some CUD members including Engineer Gezachew, said during a pro-CUD demonstration almost two years ago. This video taped evidence was one of the many anti-peace, anti-democracy statements announced by CUD. In this videos, the true nature, the propaganda and the anti-democratic goals of the CUD was displayed again. In this video, we learned that CUD talks peace, talks democracy but it deeply wishes war and hate. To the cheers and pride of CUD supporters and members in that day, it says in Amharic “Ehadik wedqual! Ehadig yelem! Ahune tegelu Ehadig kewedeqebet bota anseten eneezelewu newu! … Yetem yelale derejet gar abren enesra? enezelewu? eneshekemewu? Yeha yeqorat, ye asteway meriwoch sera aydelem!! [] Fast forward to 12 minutes 15 seconds for this statement.

Translated in English, in front of thousands of CUD supporters, and members, it says “EPRDF has fallen, EPRDF is dead! Now, is our struggle to pick up EPRDF from the place it has fallen from? This is not the work of a steadfast and intelligent leaders!”

This CUD speech was followed by Engineer Gezachew saying “We have confirmed that no one in Ethiopia from north to south, from east to west wants EPRDF.” [] we congratulate our CUD friends in the Diaspora for finally choosing dialogue, we must still ask them if they have finally abandoned their support and their alliance with armed struggle.

Most of all, we ask CUD, since you said “EPRDF is dead” how can you really work with a "dead" party? If some entity does not exist, you don’t need to even mention its name, let alone deal with it. So why do you want to work with a "dead" party? Or maybe, are you changing your mind and willing to finally join the current multi-party parliament?

efrem hagos, 10/13/07

Anonymous said...

EZ: even here in the US, members the press corps are part of the ruling circle. They cover the politicians during the day and the wine and dine with them in the evening gala. And the media, hence the journalist, are controlled by fat cats who have a lot at stake as to what the politicians do.

Anonymous said...


Yes, more than perhaps, you are merely naïve

Anonymous said...

Mr Efrem Hagos:

You seem to be very good at projecting TPLF's values onto CUD. First you seem to accuse CUD of tribalism when infact CUD is fighting tribalism. You insinuate that CUD wants to confine TIGRYANS within Tigray which is very curious given the leadership role of Dr Hailu Araya (a Tigrayan) in the CUD executive committee. contrast that with the fact that NOT ONE SINGLE non-Tigryan person is member of the TPLF central committee -- a group which meets secretly and decides on the fate of Ethiopians!

Not only that, may be some gullibles will forget this, but wasn't it TPLF which was deporting Amhara ethnic groups from various regions to confine them in the Amhara region? Was it not TPLF who was instigating tribal hatred to cause the massacres of BEDENO, ARBA GUGU?

Efrem Hagos, these are truths we Ethiopians know but hardly any western news outlet knows. But as time comes and goes, your true nature is being revealed to those whom you have been able to fool to this day. Westerners are waking upto your stupid plots and it seems lately your facade is rapidly eroding to reveal a very ugly naked self.

Enjoy it while it lasts...but we will never ever forget the 193 men women and children u have killed in the streets and their homes and the 750+ wounded and 30,000 prisoners. There is time for justice and your blood soaked murders will not escape it.