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Amplified scholarly efforts in the run up to the elections

Amplified scholarly efforts in the run up to the elections

By Bereket Gebru 04-17-15

Murphy and Scotton in their book entitled “Dependency and Journalism Education in Africa: Are there alternative models,” state that sub-Saharan Africa was the area most dominated by the Western World in political, social and even cultural terms for the longest period. Even religious and social customs (e.g., female circumcision, polygamy) were banned or suppressed by Western actions or pressures. African languages themselves have become largely irrelevant in post-independent African countries in the areas of government, education and mass media.


Considering most of the African academics have been trained in the West with the rest educated through the Western education model, it is clear that African academics promote Western culture and values in their knowledge production and reproduction endeavors to Africans.


The book states that the goal of British colonialism including colonial education was, in the words of a former colonial governor, to turn the African into "a fair-minded Englishman." In the views of some Africans, this is still the goal of many African universities in the former British colonies. It goes on to say that the culture and governance of African states appear increasingly senseless with more academics turning to the role of cultural and state critiques instead of having a productive contribution in society. Higher education makes African academics identify more with the western world and their resemblance with African communities diminishes.


Although the above analysis of facts works better for all of the colonized sub-saharan Africa, Ethiopia is no exception, despite its history of independence, as the western education system adopted by the country and the scholarships provided to Ethiopians by western countries have pushed things to that effect. Therefore, Ethiopian academics have always had a less than friendly relation with governments in power, to say the least.


However, the recent activities of the Addis Ababa University School of Journalism and Communication to provide a forum for political parties and academics to deliberate on various issues pertinent to the upcoming elections is a sign of better engagement in the socio-economic and political affairs of the nation.


The school coordinated and hosted platforms for the ruling and opposition parties to get together and deliberate on the ideologies they identify with. The school’s collaboration with the Addis Ababa University (AAU) President’s Office and the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC) have made it possible for the people to have a better understanding of the ideological stands of some of the parties participating in the upcoming elections. The discussions have also been very civilized as they were in line with the code of conduct of political parties at times of elections.


The last of these platforms organized by the school of journalism and the President’s office was held on April 4, 2015 at Eshetu Chole hall located at the Faculty of Business and Economics (FBE). The workshop was held under the title ‘Media and election: its implication for 2015 election.’


Instead of representatives of political parties congregating to explain and defend the stands of their respective parties in relation with various issues, the latest workshop gave the chance for experts on media and elections to deliver their research findings. Accordingly, the workshop featured four presenters.


The first of these presenters was Abdissa Zerai (Phd.), Dean of the school of journalism and communication. Abdissa presented on media and democracy. After going through Athenian democracy and the basic elements of democracy (freedom of speech, thought, association), he pointed out that democratization of the media is very important to make sure that its socio-economic and political benefits are optimized.


Abdissa explained that there are two reasons behind the recognition and adoption of freedom of expression and speech by governments. As the media constitute a powerful implementation of these rights, he based his arguments on the two fundamental human rights. Accordingly, he noted that the two rationales are constitutive and instrumental.


He then further explained that constitute rationale make up the fundamental nature of the rights and the subsequent complementariness that follows. The instrumental rationale, on the other hand, is about the fact that media and the fundamental rights lead us to further advanced goals.


Abdissa stated that democracy requires active participation of citizens and it is the media that does that job effectively. The private media at the time between 1992 and 1996 was born as a rebel and promoted the differences between incumbent and opposition parties instead of harmonizing the political arena.

He also pointed out that the media would assume greater roles as the democratic culture in the country develops. With the development of a more democratic society, he noted, the media would become a market place of ideas as people would then be allowed to express themselves more freely with the sense that they keep their arguments within the bounds of keeping the democratic rights of others.

He further pointed out that the political condition in the country has changed along with major changes in the international system. This can be expressed with a revolution in the 1970s coming at a time of revolutions and coup d’états around the world. The change of regime in the 1990s, he reflected, came at a time when the international system was once again shook up by the down fall of the socialist block. He went on to explain that the media setting as well has been changing along with these changes and that the sense of following international trends needs to be consciously directed.

In a move that subsequently proved very controversial, Abdissa identified a liberal state as the land of hope. By that he explained that he meant that mankind is finally going to end up living in a liberal state whether willfully or not as things are being pushed that way. He also expressed his belief that a liberal state is the most democratic.

The second presenter was Woldu Yimsel, Director of Fana Broadcasting Corporate. Woldu presented on the role of broadcasting media in the 2005 and 2010 elections. In his presentation, Woldu noted that the role played by the broadcast media in the two elections was predominantly positive though there were instances of negative inputs.


Woldu explained that the major positive point to raise is that the broadcast media provided free air time for both the ruling and opposition political parties to familiarize people with their manifestoes. He explained that the amount of time allotted for free by the broadcast media in Ethiopia is so vital in the process of democratization as parties have tremendous financial problems to deal with the problem on their own. He further noted that air time is up for sale in the case of United States of America while the Europeans provide a considerably smaller amount of free airtime for smaller political parties.


Moving on to the 2005 elections, Woldu noted that the broadcast media played both positive and negative roles. He stated efforts exerted by the broadcast media to motivate people to get election cards and to kick start election campaigns by political parties as early as February as the positive contributions during pre-election.


About the post-election, he argued that the broadcast media are somewhat responsible for the chaos that ensued as no one can escape the responsibility of not avoiding the violence and the deaths. On the positive note though, he explained that the broadcast media helped stabilize the public and dissolve the whole thing.


Woldu then pointed out that the 2010 election saw 32 million people registered to vote, resulting in a considerable increase in the number of voters in the 2005 election which stood at 27 million. He noted that the role of the broadcast media in 2010 was high and that the result of the elections was free and fair.


Woldu also stated that the broadcast media, especially Fana Broadcast Corporate, are contributing positively in the present election campaigns by providing platform for debate and self-explanation. The audience then asked his about the program called ‘Mogach’ that interviews opposition politicians and said that they feel like it intimidates them. In response, he said that he takes their comments and noted that it is good that their media came up with a chance like that.


Finally, Woldu pointed out that he considers a social democratic state as the land of hope, in response to Abdissa’s remarks of liberalism as the ultimate democratic state. Woldu argued that liberal states are characterized by small number of very rich people at the top ladder of society while the majority of society is left at the mercy of cents trickling down from above.


In contrast, he went on to explain, social democratic states have a relatively equitable distribution of wealth with the gap between the rich and the poor considerably narrower. He then concluded by pointing out that such a system would rather be taken as the land of hope.


The third presenter was Teshager Shiferaw, staff member of the school of journalism and communication. He presented on the role of the print media in elections. He deliberated on the democratization of the press media for the first time in Ethiopia since the ascendance of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and the formation of a love-hate relationship between various print media outlets.


In analyzing the print media setting in the country, he pointed out that it is polarized. He further explained that the polarization is expressed by the assumption of one of two extremes. The print media either support the establishment or they are against it in all points. The traits of objectivity and fairness are all lost in the print media landscape. He then picked out Reporter and Addis Adams newspapers as those in the middle categorizing the rest as sensationalists.


Teshager then came up with four styles of election reporting in Ethiopia. Accordingly, the first is the Wrestling style that depicts events and undertakings involving parties as a wrestling match. Reports in this style use terms as knocked out, the fight between parties and the like. The expressions are expressed in such a way that a party is depicted as knocking out another in political debates or election results. He also pointed out that those who adhere to this style consider themselves as advocating militant journalism.


The second style he identified was personality cult building style. Accordingly, those who adhere to this style focus mainly on the leaders and faces of political parties. They report on speeches by these people instead of providing ample covering for party activities as a whole. He pointed out that this style was, for instance, attributed to 2005 election reports on Berhanu Nega (Phd.) and Lidetu Ayalew. The aim here is to depict a larger than life image for an individual representing a party and associating the party with than image.


The third style presented by Teshager is the chronological style. This style presents events and facts along chronological order. By stressing on the cycle of events, it tries to give readers the direction that things have come from and where they seem to be leading. Here, it is the continuity of events that is the main focus.


The fourth election reporting style identified by the presenter is issue framing. As Teshager noted, this style deals with the issues involved and explains on what their implications are. He stated that this is the ideal style for election reporting. The style gives readers a clear idea of the ideologies involved, the policies they entail and the possible positive and negative outcomes associated. Despite the style’s appropriateness for election reporting, notes Teshager, only Reporter and Addis Admas newspapers apply it to a certain extent.


The fourth and last presenter was Negeri Lencho (Phd.), deputy dean of the school of journalism and communication. Negeri dealt with how elections were reported in the 2005 and 2010 elections. He noted that both the public and private media in the country held their own sides to support among the political parties running for elections.


Negeri stated that the public media showed support for the ruling party and used expressions as ‘interhamwe’ while referring to opposition parties. On the other hand, most private media sides with the opposition parties and used derogatory name calling while referring to the ruling party. The most common of these is ‘Weyane’ which is meant to express their conviction that the EPRDF is dominated by TPLF.


Negeri also went on to say that the reports in the media during the past two elections were characterized by the use of inflammatory arguments that incite violent behavior. He pointed out, not only written reports but also cartoons were used towards that end. As a major point to note, he stressed that it is important to analyze and strictly understand the differences between misleading and informing, presenting denial and wise argument, encouraging good and bad values along with dumping and inciting political participation.


He noted that responsible journalism is not inflammatory, derivative, malicious, corrupt, instigator of instability. Finally, he stressed on the fact that responsible journalism that has the best interest of the public should be kept through Pre, during and post election periods.


The last session dealt with the way forward and was presented by Abdissa Zerai, Dean of the school of journalism and communication. In a bid to make things better in the coming years, Abdissa pointed out a set of nine recommendations. These were:


1.   Consider media as an important part of the society: instead of considering media as tools for propaganda or means of threatening the legitimacy of those in power, it should be viewed as an important institution with positive roles to play in the struggle towards prosperity and development.


2.   Legal protection for journalists: to make sure that journalists can adhere to the principles of the discipline and to protect them from abuse, he stated that strong shield laws need to be in place. These laws would protect both journalists and their sources encouraging transparency.


3.   Professional encouragement: journalists need to receive moral, financial and material encouragements to build on their professionalism and to protect them from unethical deeds. Such conditions can strengthen the development of the profession in the country.


4.   Diffuse internal divisions: the major division between journalists working for the private and public media should also be diffused to come under the one umbrella of professionalism. This could help give an end to the polarization that has been around since the 1990s.


5.   Cultivate journalistic independence: the media setting in both private and public media institutions should cultivate the independence of journalists instead of pushing them towards party allegiance. Independence would help create a more vibrant media and democratic environment in the country.


6.   Bringing to existence media council as urgently as possible: the establishment of a council that is made up of private and public sector media practitioners and managers at the helm of media issues in the country could help stir things in the right direction. 


7.   Put pressure on the government: cases of intimidation and imprisonment of journalists need to be non-existent in the coming period. Therefore, all concerned bodies need to put pressure on the government to ensure that such things do not have any room in the Ethiopia of today.


8.   Avoid being confrontational: both the government and journalists need to avoid being confrontational and come to the understanding that dialogue is the way out of misunderstandings. A clear understanding of the fact that there are numerous approaches towards the development of a nation, a common agenda for all, should derive relations between those holding different views.


9.   Pursue truth: as the profession of journalism is about the pursuit of truth, journalists need to have a clear understanding that their role is the pursue it. Other attempts to attack or protect one side should be understood as unprofessional.  

As has been dealt with at length, the Addis Ababa University School of journalism and communication has once again come up with constructive ideas on how to make the upcoming elections free and fair. These forums have helped people with varying political viewpoints hold discussions are sensitive issues without infringing on the rights of others. Therefore, the impacts of such forums go beyond this election as they promote democratic culture.


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