Journalism in Ethiopia is becoming obsolete following the government’s lock-down on press freedom, according to Ethiopian journalists attending the Power Reporting journalism conference. Wits Vuvuzela spoke to some of the Ethiopian delegates who all asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions when they return to their home.
“There is no such thing as journalism in Ethiopia,” said the Ethiopian delegate, drawing on the frustrations experienced by many practising journalists in the country. Ethiopia is one of the most repressive nations in Africa for journalists and is the second worst jailer of journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), after neighbouring Eritrea.
“We are expecting one day we have a media like yours,” said the delegate who expressed envy of the South African media system, citing it as a “beacon of freedom”.
“With each journalist sentenced to prison, Ethiopia takes another step further from freedom of the press and democratic society,” said CPJ East Africa representative Tom Rhodes in the statement. Earlier this year, Ethiopian authorities staged a crack-down on independent journalists and bloggers, causing many to flee the country. The CPJ said 17 journalists are presently imprisoned in Ethiopia.
Ethiopian writers and journalists who were at the conference spoke out about their government’s role as democracy’s locksmith.According to one of the delegates, many of their colleagues have been arrested and beaten for expressing their opinions. As a result many abandon journalism.“We are expecting one day we have a media like yours,” said the delegate who expressed envy of the South African media system, citing it as a “beacon of freedom”.
The Guardian’s Africa correspondent David Smith said Africa’s image of media freedom is varied, saying “there is a very mixed picture of [media censorship]” in different countries in Africa.Smith has reported in Ethiopia and described the government’s hostility towards independent journalists as “terrifying”.Despite the lack of media freedom, the Ethiopian delegates remain optimistic on the state of media independence in Africa, but reiterate that, in Ethiopia, “the condition is not conducive for any journalist”.
PRESS POWER: Human rights ‘defender’ and journalist Rafael Marques de Morais received a standing ovation for his address at Power Reporting’s third Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture. Photo: Zelmarie Goosen
Standing in solidarity with imprisoned Ethiopian journalists, Rafael Marques de Morais received a standing ovation from fellow journalists and other guests, at the Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture held this evening at Wits University.
Human rights activist and journalist, de Morais delivered the address for Power Reporting’s third Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture. He stressed the importance of investigative journalism in advancing democracy and defending the freedom of expression in the face of opposition and fear incited by government authorities.
Driven by “national and civic conscience”, de Morais says he is proud of his work in defending the rights of fellow Angolan citizens through the exposure of conflict diamonds and corruption. “Journalists should defend constitutional rights”, he said to a packed auditorium.
SOLIDARITY BROTHERS: Human rights ‘defender’ and journalist Rafael Marques de Morais received a standing ovation for his moving address at Power Reporting’s third Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture. Photo: Zelmarie Goosen
De Morais criticized the Ethiopian government as an enemy to journalism for arresting and imprisoning journalists. “Journalists and human rights campaigners must be embarrassed for doing little to support our peers in Ethiopia.”
He also called for a campaign to move the African Union, currently based in Ethiopia, to a country that respects human rights.
Although the challenges of investigative journalists have not changed since de Morais started practicing, he says the Internet has proven to be an advantage in publishing content and reaching wider audiences. De Morais has started his own watchdog website Maka Angola which exposes corruption through his investigations.
De Morais told Wits Vuvuzela that as the values in society have deteriorated, so has the quality of investigative journalism. He says investigative journalists can combat opposition if they realise “government officials are men and women like us”. He says we can limit their abuse of power because “the power comes from the people”.
De Morais said he corresponded with but never met Carlos Cardoso, in whose name the lecture was given. Cardoso, a journalist and a Witsie, was murdered in Maputo in 2000 while working on a investigation into fraud at a major bank.