The Free Press in Ethiopia can’t be free until the drifters, apologists and want-to-be journalists and Medias are put out of commission. It’s about time Ethiopians draw the line between the real things and those masquerading as journalist and free press to deceive the public.
by Teshome Debalke
The once celebrated ‘journalist’ and editor of Awramba Times, Dawit Kebede sought political asylum in the USA a few years back an d abandon his protection and return home to the same regime a few month ago he gave refugee status a whole different meaning.
When the accidental journalist, refugee, tourist and alleged spy took a daylight flight out of Addis Ababa Airport a few years ago to seek protection from a regime known for its atrocious treatment of journalists something wasn’t kosher. But, when he return back; after enjoying the privilege and throwing jabs on his compatriots he broke his sworn journalistic duty and became a gossip peddler with an extended tourist visa.
No one knows how he managed to secure a passport, exist visa and a ticket from the same regime he flee claiming to fear for his life. But, to retune to the same regime that allowed him to resume his work and interview a high ranking government official within weeks of his return not only insult journalism profession but the people that paid the price for it. It was like watching ‘Alice in the wonderland’ episode that can qualify for Grammy nomination for the best acting and directing.
Absurd as it may sound; his official excuse to return home was to be closer on the ground where the struggle for freedom from the same tyranny he fled. When that wasn’t enough, the ‘prize wining journalist’ that fled his country not only welcomed with open arms but granted him permission to interview with Shemle Kemal, the Deputy Communication Affair Minster known for his duplicity telling him the none existence of journalists in Woyane prison.
No one knows how he managed to dupe the sponsoring organization – the Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) or whether he falsified his fear of persecution to the US Immigration Naturalization Service (INS) to be granted asylum. Nor, what he told INS the reasons he surrendering his asylum status or what passport he used to travel home. Whatever the case may be and however he managed to elude the CPJ or INS to come and go, the case is ‘under review’, according spokesperson for INS.
Call him the accidental refugee, tourist, spy, or all-in-one journalist the action of Dawit Kebde of Awramba Times illustrate what is wrong with ‘journalists’ and the free press in the lawless Woyane ruled Ethiopia as well as exported in the Diaspora by cadres and apologist of the ruling regime.
To his credit, Dawit Kebede was one of the celebrated Ethiopian journalists that defy Woyane tyranny and the hope of reforming the sorry state of the free press.
Something must have gone wrong since his colleague and fellow journalist arrest on off-the-wall terrorism charge.
Whatever it may be, his round trip escape from a political refugee-tourist journalist back to where he started– with bizarre behavior in between including, playing the ethnic card along the way seems to turn the once promising champion of the free press to join the club of gossip peddlers and apologist of the regime that have been contaminating the cyberspace for far too long.
It was indeed another sad day for the free press when one more promising Ethiopian falls in the Hall-of-Shame as many did before him. Add his strange behavior and staged interview with the shameless Deputy Minster of Government Communication Affair the prize winning journalist showed borderline insanity.
The important issue isn’t what one renegade ‘journalist’ or Media did or didn’t do but the state of the free press in general and the behavior of want-to-be journalist. The time has come for independent Media monitoring group to evaluate the behavior of journalist and the activities of Medias as many self respecting countries do.
Ethiopia ranks at the bottom of every measure on Free Press. Freedom House categorizes it as ‘difficult situation’, according its 2013 Press Freedom Index. For sure, the whole truth is more than what a foreign organizations’ index can tell. The fact the entire ‘free press’ in Ethiopia fallen victim of cadres of Woyane’s run lookalikes — masquerading as free presses isn’t secret.
Before every lone ranger propagandist or want-to-be journalist and Media that put up a website and name it some fancy name or another raise hell, it is important to explore the State of the Free Press and what is expected of journalists or Medias.
Free Press is a serious business. It is not to entertain a second rated ethnic tyranny or some interest group or another but, to get to the truth in public interest. If anyone is allergic to the truth it is wise to look for other occupation than recycling propaganda posed journalist or Free Press. Another thing many want-to-be journalists miss in their cut-and –paste exercise of recycling propaganda or gossip is they forget pampering tyranny is unforgivable crime against the people.
The primary job of journalist and Free Press is to go after the ruling regime, particularly unelected tyranny like Woyane of Ethiopia. Beyond that, corporations and civic institutions or powerful individuals that have direct or indirect impact against the wellbeing and interest of the public are targets of any self-respecting journalist and free press. In that regard, there are plenty of those roaming the streets of the country.
In today’s Ethiopia, pick any Media or journalist that operates within the country randomly noting resubliming Free Press or no one that does journalism work exists. The little opportunity that opened up for independent journalist to operate free press in the past was replaced by counterfeits — recycling the ruling regime’s propaganda in the name of the Free Press. Another habit these handicapped want-to-be journalists developed in a make-believe world they created is interviewing the regime’s officials and apologist with predetermined questions to desensitize the public makes them journalists or free press.
Furthermore, when we look dipper in the propaganda businesses, we find the Government Communication Affair Minster (the former Ministry of Information). The Ministry that was under the leadership of Birket Simon single handedly the sole decider of the fate of journalists and the free press for 22 long years of Woyane’s rule and counting. In that capacity, the government runs Medias, including the Ethiopian News Agency, the Ethiopian Television and Radio stations distribute propaganda from top down.
When it comes to spreading propaganda for international wire service Walta Information Center owned by ruling party Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) masquerading as private news agency does superb job.
Further down the chain of distribution are TPLF owned shortwave Radio Fana, masquerading as ‘private’ broadcasts the same propaganda 24/7 in local languages throughout the nation.
In addition, a few FM radio stations in selected cities and a dozen or so print Medias controlled by TPLF’s cadres and apologist blanket the country — saturating the Media market by TPLF’s propoganda.
Therefore, At present, there is no a single independent news agency and mass Media in the entire country of Ethiopia. As depressing as it may sound in the 21century, the fact there are ‘journalists’ or Medias willing to cover up the reality — disguised as journalist and free press is where the problem of the free press begin and must end.
Why the living- dead ‘journalists’ or Media do it?
It is not a mystery the nature of tyranny is incompatible with the free press. If there is any self-respecting journalist that doesn’t understand that reality and participate in recycles propaganda, he or she might as well declare they are the living-dead and get it over with.
There is nothing wrong recycling propaganda and fiction per say. But pretending to be independent journalist and free press isn’t only an insult to the profession but a crime against the public. The question is why would they want to fake what they are not? In another words, why would ‘journalists’ sugarcoat propaganda or fiction and want to pass it as truth?
The answer for above question would sort out the bottom feeders from the real thing in the journey to freedom and democracy from tyranny.
Therefore, unlike many believe the enemy of freedom and democracy isn’t tyranny alone but the appologist of tyranny, particularly the living dead journalist running Medias masquerading as free press.
What can be done about journalists and Medias that recycle propaganda?
First, it isn’t an easy work to recycle propaganda as truth. It requires reducing oneself to the bottom of the pits to sort out rubbish and present it as kosher. It also takes a psychological make up to believe such corruption is a worthwhile venture. Therefore, people that do it often feel ashamed of themselves to conceal their identity. If they come out in public they always have to put on an act at all times.
Continuous public exposure for their misbehaviors is a known remedy to put them out of their miserable existnace.
The ESAT Factor
The ‘clash of civilization’ between tyranny and democracy begins and ends with the Free Press like ESAT. Those that don’t understand ESAT aren’t prepared for the democratic struggle or are part of tyranny’s network against the people’s interest. Therefore, undermining the Free Press like ESAT is misplaced and comes from the usual suspects.
The establishment of ESAT, the first independent public Mass-Media in the history of Ethiopia changed the landscape of Free Press and the behavior of journalist as we know it. ESAT not only blew wide-open the hiding places of tyranny and Medias; masquerading as the free press but set the standard of how the Ethiopian Free Press should function and how independent journalists should behave — underlining public interest comes first than anything else.
Unlike some wanted us to believe, ESAT is an institution not an individual journalist, editor or manager. Like everything first expectation is high and criticism is plenty. But, institution building takes time, resources and trial-and-error to get it right in changing old mindsets and beliefs of expectations of the importance of public interest over individuals and groups interest.
What is the public interest?
Often we miss the forest for the tree when we argue the public interest verses individuals or groups interest. Unfortunately, the survival of tyranny depends on it.
Institution like ESAT is a public institution. Therefore, whether we like it or not we have to respect and support the public’s right to know about everything. Public interest can’t and should not be secondary to individual and groups’ interest period.
The role of ESAT is to fulfill the public right to know what the ruling tyranny or anyone else that compromise or conspire against the public. Therefore, anyone that split hair to undermine ESAT is either ignorant of what a free press is all about or no less tyrannical than the ruling Woyane regime itself.
Thus, instead of making too much noise over minor errors ESAT may or mayn’t make, we should argue over what else the public need to know about the ruling regime and other interest groups that are working against the public interest behind the people’s back.
What we need is not arguing over ESAT but more public institutions like ESAT that defend the right of the public in many social, political and economic rights from all forms of abuse of the public interests.
The rest of the side shows aren’t in the public interest and don’t help to bring about the people’s government sooner than later. As the struggle to rid of the ethnic tyranny goes on, it is important to be reminded the public interest is the driving force of the struggle noting more or less.
As I said before, ESAT is the best thing that happened to Ethiopians since the Adwa victory. Anyone or group that can’t see that reality must have other agenda or don’t understand the public interest from self-interest.
That said, there are many things I can suggest to improve ESAT. But, talk is cheap, and when I am ready to back up my talk with the resources needed to do it I will say so. I suggest every Ethiopian should do the same. For those that hate ESAT, including the Woyane regime and its apologists, I can only say whatever your alternative may be it wouldn’t worth a penny on a dollar. Recycling rubbish may buy you time but it will stink you out of existence, save yourself.