By Tewedaje Tesfu Biru
Handwritten bulletins which address the daily events of ancient Rome were the earliest journalistic effort made in the first century BC. Then, the first distributed news bulletins appeared in China around 750 AD. Germany, The Netherlands, and England produced newsletters and news books of different sizes in the 16th and 17th centuries.
By the early 18th century, politicians had begun to recognize the enormous potential of newspapers in shaping public opinion. Consequently the journalism of the period was largely political in nature; journalism was considered as an adjunct of politics and each political faction had its own newspaper. It is also during this time struggle for freedom of expression, which is immunity of the communications media including newspapers, books, magazines, radio, and television from government control or censorship, began.
Ethiopia, in which freedom of expression is guaranteed as the basic right in the constitution, is among the leading countries in the world in suppression of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information. Many private media are banned, and many journalists fled their country and many others thrown to prison only because they criticized the state government. According to Human Rights Watch, Ethiopia is the second country next to Iran in the number of journalists in exile.
Journalism is a socially responsible profession, serving the needs and interest of the society by creating the necessary intelligence they need to lead better lives. However, in Ethiopia most, if not all, government journalists are the watchdogs of the government rather than the public and they are sanctioned by the government to be so. Journalists with strong position to balance their stories would be accused of having conspired with the opposition and are usually labeled as “terrorists” or “anti-government” and taken to prison. In fact, even those who work as watchdogs of the government lead their life in conflict between their professional identity and the situation.
Journalism in Ethiopia is not free of political influence. This can be indicated in the government’s dominance of the media ownership, the appointment of the media managers from the ruling party, and the imposition of restrictive media laws. The government’s clear aim is to ensure that media promote and never criticize government initiatives and policies.
As Human Rights Watch states the Ethiopian government has accused more than 38 journalists with various crimes under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation since the 2010 election. Journalists who are known to write critical articles face regular and intense pressure from security officials. With the existing degree of censorship, it seems Ethiopia is in the 18th century as far as the development of journalism in the rest of the world is considered. Thus, it can be said that in Ethiopia where freedom of expression is highly suppressed and journalists are in trouble, journalism is fake.
Tewedaj Tesfu Biru, October, 2015, Toronto, Canada