Make media more free, panel says

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During a panel discussion organized by a team under the Council of Ministers, established to assist legal reform, ethical journalism was addressed. Media representatives stressed the danger faced by the nation because of lack of ethical conduct and asked for amending proclamation to resolve this problem.
The current laws focus on monitoring and controlling the media, thereby limiting freedom of expression. International and human rights conventions support freedom of speech which the current laws limit. They came to a consensus saying that a strong democracy requires people’s participation and freedom of expression.
When freedom of expression is limited, the panel felt, it should be done so based on international laws and principals. Otherwise it should be protected, which goes in line with the Ethiopian constitution. This document forbids censorship, entitles the people to obtain information concerning them, and sees the media as a force for building a democratic system. The panel felt that information needs to be allowed even if it goes against what the government wants. In a similar vein, government sponsored media should not be immune from penalties when it makes mistakes.
Another major issue on the table, was foreign media ownership, which currently is prohibited except to Ethiopian Diaspora. The team looked at South Africa’s experience which allows foreign nationals to own up to 20 percent of a media company.
They also felt forbidding a publisher from owning more than one print media in the same area, or in the same language marginalized the press.
Lawyers attending the dialogue, which is a rare occurrence, featured the presence of media, placed the issue of defamation on the agenda. They recommended it be removed from criminal laws. They also went over a literature review of current research that showed lawsuits used by the government to stifle the media. The charges are made by using the current media law to stifle the media and they mostly fall under terrorism cases, according to the working team chair person, Solomon Goshu.
Representatives from Ethiopian Reporter Newspaper said that the current code of conduct signed between the opposition parties allows political parties to own media companies. He questioned this because the Prime Minister said parties still own media. However media law states that political parties can’t do this.
They also felt that rules regarding responsibility for content was vague, and they asked that it be made clear. Currently the reporter, audience, seller or the printing house could face consequences for unlawful content. They said the responsibility should fall on the Chief Editor.
Recent reform in the nation is expected to alleviate this to some extent. However, currently media law is fragmented, the panel said. Right now there are three major proclamations addressing media; the Broadcast Service Proclamation, Computer Crimes Proclamation and Media Law.
The team working on reforming media law looked at academic research, feedback from previous dialogue and experiences of team members.
It was chaired by Solomon Goshu, journalist, lawyer and lecturer, and 14 other members including: Deputy Attorney General, Giedion Thimotiyos (PhD), Teamerat G.Giyorgis, Mesenbet Assefa (PhD), Hallelujah Lule, Yared Legesse (PhD), Hanna Betachew, Bethelhem Negash, Mesfin Negash, and others.