By Jason McLure, 4 March 2010 (Bloomberg) – News broadcasts to Ethiopia by the Voice of America’s Amharic-language service are being electronically jammed, the Washington-based broadcaster said.
“VOA deplores jamming and any other form of censorship of the media,” Danforth Austin, director of the U.S. government- owned news service, said in a statement read to Bloomberg News by spokesman David Borgida. The broadcaster hasn’t been able to identify the source of the interference, Borgida said.
Shimeles Kemal, a spokesman for the Ethiopian government, said it was not responsible. “Ethiopia has a constitution which outlaws any act by any official organ to restrict the dissemination of broadcastmaterial from abroad,” he said in an interview today from the capital, Addis Ababa.
VOA along with Germany’s Deutsche Welle provide the only two news broadcasts in the local language not controlled by Ethiopia’s government or Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front. Ethiopian opposition parties have complained that the government is using the media for pro-Meles propaganda ahead of elections on May 23. In December, the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia said it was concerned that private media in the country face alleged “harassment and intimidation” by the government.
Last year the state suspended the press accreditation of two Ethiopian VOA reporters for three days. One of them was later jailed for 17 days on tax charges and was released after being acquitted.
Last month, a reporter for an Ethiopian publication was jailed for criticizing Meles in a newspaper column, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. At least a dozen Ethiopian journalists fled the country in 2009 citing government harassment, the New York-based organization said in a statement last month.
A September study by the Open Net Initiative, a collaboration between Harvard University and two Canadian laboratories, found Ethiopia’s state-owned phone company blocked domestic Internet access to Web sites about human rights and political reform.