Ethiopia Journalism: Where Is the Moral Threshold?


At a time when the media is drawing utmost public attention because of the upcoming election, it is understandable that journalists are bound to suffer from both internal soul-searching and external pressure. The soul-searching challenge is the question of loyalty. Like any one of us, journalists have to be loyal to their family, children and wives. Most of all, they have to be loyal to their values and principles of self-respect and professional ethics.

This makes telling or writing the truth even more challenging. By their actions, journalists could betray everybody and board the wagon of power, even it means pushing people to the brink of death-dealing danger.

The moment can be very crucial. Either one has to subserve his patrons in lieu of material benefit or stick to principles of ethical professionalism.

Last year, at the House of Representatives, the State Minister of Communications had reported that despite the comparatively better salaries and fringe benefits on the payrolls of the state media, the turnover was significant and could not be explained. He requested the MPs to take a political decision.

I cannot offer any answer for that testing question. But I can make wild guesses. After all, with those years of academic education and exposure to a sea of books and reference materials, they must have decided to be loyal to themselves.

A light look to the back of the growth of journalism can reveal that journalism had been supressed for years under the pressure of censorship by people who were experts in creating false allegations of double meaning of words. People with Geez background in their readings were notorious experts in finding faults between the lines and perhaps praised for it as “learned men”.

When we say that journalists should be loyal to their professions and to be ready to pay whatever cost there is to pay, we are cognizant of the fact that they are human beings. Like any one of us, we expect them to be in a dilemma.

On one hand, they face the soul-searching question of living up to their responsibilities. This entails them to shoulder the responsibility to save what they have bequeathed from their ancestors the heritage of Ethiopianism.

On the other hand, they face the pressing question of life as human beings. We do not intend to play them God.

But there are certain important responsibilities they are expected to do to say the list. They realise the deeply entrenched abject poverty in which we live. They know that one egg that used to sell for 25 cents a couple of years ago is now selling at 3.50 Br. The cost of living in general has risen to an unbearable level. Having one meal a day has now become a rare windfall.

All that is expected of journalists is just to take the camera with them and pose the question “why?”. Of course, in the ethics of journalism, there are a set of other questions they ought to ask.

Let them dedicate themselves to have the guts and ask them. If the whole genre of journalists asks those questions, nobody can resist facing the truth.

By the way, I have been able to watch and listen to the English journalists of the state media making every effort to impress the foreign tourists by going out of their way to exercise some public relations mission by their leading questions implying that the country is peaceful and tranquil. They tend to forget the stone barrages placed at the gate of the US Embassy, where even the highest official cannot drive his limousine and enter without a pass, not to forget that the White House, the most revered office, has recently been challenged by an intruder passing by.

There is also another challenge faced by journalists which is the interdependence of history and the advance in technology of communication and information. Gone are the days when monopolies of one or two modalities of public media, like printed press or electronics media, are prevalent. The outlet through the social media has taken its toll and overwhelmed the attention of the youth like a wave.

Trying to use the benefit of monopoly possession of the media either to cut and paste or make clips to construct idea out of context is tantamount to try to teach old dogs new tricks. All they are able to achieve is only to wag their tails.

Listeners or viewers know where to tune and when. Every second is filled with events and stories. Unless journalists look out and try to follow up events, they would find themselves chewing overdue material.

We have observed that some journalists make attempts to deceive their listeners by picking up unintended messages to use them to mislead interviewees who fall prey to their traps. The idea is to interview the uneducated laity to express his or her conciliatory remarks as if opposition parties have bones to pick among themselves.

The good thing is that the general public has no trust on them, in general, even if their drives were true. There cannot be anything more than losing public trust for any media. They only deceive themselves while hiding behind the camera.

Democracy is one of the oldest concepts inherited from ancient Greek philosophers, a concept so sweet to listen to but so bitter to taste. But we all have to swallow it and swallow it fast, if we have to ensure our natural and constitutional rights to express our thoughts freely. It might take time and a lot of cost to pay but it is inevitable to come.







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