Groundless lament of CPJ
Akalu Derbabaw (A.A.U)
It is obvious that good governance, peace and development are vital for the survival of any nation. In this regard I could say the role of media is limitless. Media is an important instrument to empower and engage the public in all political and economic activities in every country. It also has an enormous deal of role in building a cohesive society by encouraging tolerance, peace and development.
Cognizant of this fact, the government of Ethiopia guaranteed freedom of press and the media. Our constitution recognized and created a favorable ground for the proliferation of independent press and media outlets.
As a result of these basic rights, we have been able to see a very large number of private newspapers, magazines and few FM radio stations over the last 20 years. More than 200 newspapers and 87 magazines were established and started their publications in the country in a period only between 1992 and 1997.
Despite the fact that there are attempts of abuse and mishandling of the freedom of the press by some media practitioners, we Ethiopians have been enjoying this right. Though, some purported international human right groups, whose hidden agenda in my view, is propagating the neoliberal ideology and their Ethiopian crony’s baseless accusation, media freedom in this country is respected.
The purpose of this commentary is about the recently contract issued by some public printing presses. Following the circulation of the new contract, news paper and Magazine publishers reacted pessimistically and interpreted the contract wrongly. And they, escorted by Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), rushed for denunciation and condemnation by describing the move as an act of censorship and against press freedom.
Though the contract has nothing to do with the government, these statements tried to mislead the public as if the contract was issued by itself with the intention of weakening the country’s freedom of press. In my understanding this is entirely false for it doesn’t represent the reality on the ground and the measures taken so far by our government to bring about a vibrant and strong press.
Our constitution grants a great deal of significance to the freedom of press. According to the constitution everyone is entitled the right to expression without interference. Thus our freedom to seek, receive and convey information and idea of all kinds through any means of communication is assured in such a way that it would never be breached. In line with these rights the constitution has given full freedom to press and the media. It has also abolished censorship of any kind in the course of exercising the right of expression.
However, the constitution laid down some legal restrictions in order to defend the well-being of the society. The expression opinion aimed at damaging the dignity and honor of individuals or groups or the national interest of the country, are prohibited. Freedom of the media can only be restricted by laws drafted in line with the constitution.
The Freedom of Media and Access to Information proclamation has also incorporated the aforementioned constitutional rights. Thus, it is unquestionably true that the government of Ethiopia guaranteed freedom of expression, press and the media as well as it has eliminated censorship.
I think the allegation being made by CPJ and newspaper publishers deliberately misinterpreted the new contract and portrayed it as politically motivated move. They didn’t consider the fact that they are obliged to operating by respecting laws and regulations of the country. They didn’t want to know that the new contract presented to them is part of these obligations.
The main issue that worried the publishers and their campaigner (CPJ) is Article 10 of the contract that depicts the conditions by which the printing presses would be obliged to refuse to print contents violating the law. As stated in the first sub article, the printer has the right to refuse printing any written script that the publisher submitted for printing should it have adequate reason to judge that the script breaches the law. Also the printer reserves the right to terminate or cancel the contract at any time should it have adequate reason to judge that the publisher has a propensity to publish a content which entails liability.
Whether the publishers or CPJ before rushing to blame anyone, should have asked themselves as to why the printing presses wanted to issue the new contract deal. As far as my knowledge is concerned, it is entirely related with the country’s 2005 criminal code that contains an article regarding the involvement of criminal acts committed through mass media.
According to the printing presses, the new contract is designed in line with the laws the country issued regarding press and the media. In this case I think the publishers and CPJ missed the fact that Ethiopia’s press and other related laws make legally held responsible each and everyone who happen to have involved in any criminal act committed by breaching these laws.
As printing presses are major stakeholders in the courses of newspaper or magazine publications, in my view, their move is right for it is crucial to avoiding illegal acts committed against the predetermined laws and bring about a conducive environment that ensures their survival in the business.
For instance Ethiopian laws criminalize any reporting deemed to encourage unconstitutional change of government through violence and uprising. And also our law prohibits media reporting that provide moral or other forms support to groups and causes which the government considers to be illegal. If we all try to understand the logic behind this reality we wouldn’t have rushed to blaming the printing presses and accuse our government.
So in my opinion the new contract does not breach Ethiopia's Constitution and the Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information law.
As far as I am concerned the move taken by the printing presses is not unusual as every business interaction should be established on a sort of contract agreement. And this contract is a legally binding document between the pertinent companies, that stipulates one promises to perform (or not to perform) certain actions.
This kind of arrangement would give us legal rights to go to court when the other party has 'breached' the contract, or failed to fulfill the agreements under the contract. Thus contracts are made based on mutual interest and to the satisfaction of both.
But our publishers failed to notice these business facts and are considering the contract as a move to deteriorating their business.
According to law professionals contracts should not be viewed as weapons held in reserve to punish a wayward partner. Rather, they should be used primarily as tools for structuring relationships and memorializing or recording what the parties have agreed to do for and with each other.
If our newspaper and magazine publishers are not happy with the new contract of the printing presses, I think they have full right to go to other printing houses which they think are better for their business. Also they have right to establish their own printing houses and print their news papers and magazines by taking all the legal responsibilities.
Since this is the universal fact that we all know, I don’t see anything wrong on the circulation of the new contract by the printing presses, unless we wanted to politicize the subject. In my understanding the lament by CPJ and our newspaper publishers is unfounded. It is nothing but the part and parcel of the persistent campaign to tarnishing the progress of democracy and the positive image of our country.
The most important thing we should be concerned about now must be the issues of professional ethics by which our news papers are being governed. The public’s right to information is respected by law and one of the ways by which this right could be implemented is through media, as one of the main purposes of News papers and other forms of media is to informing the public. This would help the public or the incumbent to be able to react in each and every activity that might need to be dealt with.
However, most of the news papers in our country are not plying this role. The contents of most of the reports, published by many of Ethiopian private news papers, are not based on facts. Instead of informing the public the truth, they are engaged in misinformation. In my observation it is very difficult to consider some of the papers as independent private media outlets. They look like a certain political party organ.
While one of the basic principles of journalism is to be an active advocate of peace and stability in any nation, most news papers in Ethiopia are being shockingly engaged in activities against the principle.
Ethiopia now needs a very strong private media that would contribute to the sustainable advancement of the existing positive economic achievements. This country, wish to have a very responsible media that promote peace, development and democracy with in the frame work of our constitution and other laws.
We Ethiopians now are in a strong position at which our freedom of expression and press could never be reversed as long as we are abide by the constitution endorsed with the active involvement and recognition of the whole nations and nationalities of the country.
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