Justifying Self-censorship: A Perspective from Ethiopia
by Terje S. Skjerdal
Gimlekollen School of Journalism and Communication,
The Ethiopian Media Situation
Ethiopia is characterized by strong state media institutions, especially in the broadcasting sector. The only television company is state-run (Ethiopian Television, ETV), and nationwide radio is operated by the state as well (Ethiopian Radio). The government has recently opened up the airwaves for private radio stations, and four licences for commercial FM stations have been granted since 2006. As regards the print media, some 33 private newspapers are on the market in addition to four state-run ones, most of which are weeklies.1 The newspapers are mainly distributed in the capital city of Addis Ababa, which accommodates less than 5 percent of the approximately 80 million population in the country.
From 1974 to 1991, the country was ruled by the Derg regime with extensive use of military means and repression of fundamental human rights. The downfall of the regime in 1991 led to great enthusiasm in the emerging media market and a sudden growth in newspaper titles and magazines. However, many publications were highly sensational and remained in the market only for a short period of time (Shimelis, 2002). Throughout the 1990s, the new EPRDF (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front) government began sanctioning the private media and imprisonments of media workers became commonplace, especially during election periods. The latest grave crackdown on the private media occurred after the national elections in 2005 when 14 journalists and editors were put in custody for disrupting public order, only to be found not guilty by the court after more than 1.5 years in prison. Despite irregular reactions from authorities, the private media outlets have managed to carry critical journalism – albeit to varying degrees (Skjerdal and Hallelujah, 2009; Wondwosen, 2009).
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