Open Letter to Ethiomedia.com
Editor-in-chief, Deutsche Welle Amharic | January 11, 2012
Having read, with a growing sense of disbelief and disillusionment, a number of articles on Ethiomedia alleging self-censorship at DW Amharic, kindly allow me to set the record straight.
These allegations have no foundation whatsoever. I would like to go on record as saying that we at DW Amharic neither bow to pressure from the government of Ethiopia, nor give in to the increasingly outrageous demands made by radicalized opposition figures and organizations. Our editorial policy is guided by one principle only, namely: to provide millions of Ethiopians with access to free and fair information in a country where media freedom is heavily curtailed.
I was dumbfounded to read allegations that DW Amharic constitutes a “mouthpiece” (I quote) of the Government of Ethiopia (GoE). This is the very same GoE that routinely jams our broadcasts for months at a time. Why would it do this if it could instead use us for propaganda purposes, as the allegations imply? If we are indeed its ‘mouthpiece’, why has the GoE repeatedly complained to the German government about our reporting and refused us additional reporter licenses?
I am no less flabbergasted by claims made in an open letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel that DW Amharic deliberately shuns voices critical of the government on its programmes. This letter was circulated just one day after we ran an interview with German opposition MP Thilo Hoppe, who is arguably the most vocal critic of the Ethiopian government in Germany and is said to be included on the infamous ‘blacklist’ allegedly kept by the authorities in Addis. The interview with Mr. Hoppe followed a piece about Dr. Berhanu Nega’s visit to Berlin. Surely I do not need to remind you that the GoE considers Ginbot 7 to be a terrorist organization? Regular listeners to our Sunday talk show will know that Ethiopia’s sole opposition MP, Ato Girma Seifu, is a frequent guest, as are a variety of (diaspora) commentators critical of government policy. The list goes on.
One expects a certain degree of harassment from an authoritarian government that has been repeatedly criticized for its human rights record and doctored elections. I did not expect the same, and worse, harassment from people who claim to champion democracy and freedom of speech. While the present political set-up is faulty in many ways, I shudder at the thought that some of these self-proclaimed democrats may well be enlisted in a future one.
There is, of course, another possible explanation: that the wool is being pulled over our eyes by a group of media wits who are busy promoting their own business agenda under the guise of investigative journalism. Can I really be the only one to find it strange that the publication of a series of mud-slinging articles about Voice of America (VoA) and Deutsche Welle (DW), timed to appear almost simultaneously, was driven by an executive of an ambitious media company currently eyeing the Ethiopian radio market?
Yes, we do have guidelines in place governing contributions by Deutsche Welle correspondents to media outlets other than DW. This includes, but is by no means restricted to, Ethiomedia.com. The same rules apply to publications in government-aligned media such as The Ethiopian Herald or Walta. This is standard practice; to suggest that it amounts to self-censorship is simply absurd.
While I appreciate some of the more analytical and sober stories on Ethiomedia and similar diaspora news sites, some articles very clearly do not conform to DW editorial standards. You don’t have to be a citizen of a country still struggling with its Nazi past to find the phrase “the fascist Woyane regime in Addis Ababa” horribly inappropriate, no matter how much one may disagree with the present government.
It is our view that some of the content splashed across certain news sites constitutes hate speech, and DW will not allow opinion pieces by its journalists to be posted alongside hate speech. Again, the issue is really quite simple, and has nothing to do with self-censorship.
Allow me to conclude by saying that I find these vicious and deliberately distorted attacks against a media institution that has served the Ethiopian public well since 1965 very troubling indeed. We are currently approaching the 50th anniversary of our broadcasting to Ethiopia, and will continue to act as a trusted friend and reliable source of news to the Ethiopian people.
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