Freedom of the Press - Ethiopia (2006)
|Publication Date||27 April 2006|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom of the Press - Ethiopia (2006), 27 April 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/473451ba28.html [accessed 27 November 2015]|
Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 27
Political Influences: 28
Economic Pressures: 20
Total Score: 75
Life Expectancy: 48
Religious Groups: Muslim (45-50 percent), Ethiopian Orthodox (35-40 percent), animist (12 percent), other
Ethnic Groups: Oromo (40 percent), Amhara and Tigrean (32 percent), Sidamo (9 percent), other (19 percent)
Capital: Addis Ababa
Media freedom deteriorated significantly in 2005 as part of a broader crackdown following the disputed May national elections, in which the government accused journalists and other prominent civil society actors of acting as "mouthpieces" for the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy party. The constitution guarantees freedom of the press; however, the government often restricts this right. Authorities frequently invoke the 1992 Law on the Press regarding publication of false and offensive information, incitement of ethnic hatred, or libel in order to justify the arrest and detainment of journalists, with dozens of such cases being reported during the year, particularly after the May elections. Court cases can drag on for years, and journalists often have multiple charges pending against them. A 2003 draft press law was widely criticized by press freedom groups as further chilling the press environment; it was not enacted in 2005, although certain provisions of the law were included in the penal code that took effect in May. Issues of concern include restrictions on who may practice journalism; government-controlled licensing and registration systems; restrictions on print and broadcast cross-ownership; harsh sanctions for violations of the law, including up to five years' imprisonment; excessively broad exceptions to the right of access to information held by public authorities; and the establishment of a government-controlled press council with powers to engage in prior censorship. The Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association (EFJA), one of the most vocal opponents of the draft press law, continued to struggle against the government. Authorities had suspended the organization in November 2003 for failing to submit a certified audit; in December 2004, a federal court declared the ban to be null and void, and this ruling was upheld in March 2005. However, the EFJA continued to face harassment during the year from the authorities, and EFJA president Kifle Mulat had gone into exile by year's end.
Foreign journalists have generally operated with fewer restrictions than their local counterparts. However, they also faced official pressure during the year; in June, the Ministry of Information revoked the accreditation of five local journalists working for foreign media outlets, accusing them of writing "unbalanced reports" following the May elections. The prime minister's office denies access to the independent press, limiting coverage of official events to state-owned media outlets. Authorities occasionally detain, beat, or otherwise harass journalists; as a result, an increasing number practice self-censorship. During the year, reporters were also pressured to reveal sources of information. In August, two editors were found guilty of contempt of court for refusing to reveal their sources, and one was sentenced to jail time while the other was fined.
As part of a broader political crackdown following antigovernment demonstrations in November in which over 40 protesters were killed, the government issued a "wanted list" of 58 persons – including a number of editors and journalists – accused of involvement in the protests; arrested several dozen journalists; charged the accused (including 12 journalists) with treason, genocide, and attempts to subvert the constitution, all charges that carry prison terms and the possibility of a death penalty; and shut down more than a dozen Amharic-language newspapers, which together accounted for more than 80 percent of total Amharic circulation. Foreign media outlets such as the Voice of America (VOA) and Deutsche Welle were also accused of fomenting the disturbances, and correspondents working for these outlets were charged. Many journalists fled the country to avoid arrest, and more than 50 remained in exile at year's end.
The state controls all broadcast media and operates the only television station. A 1999 law permits private radio stations, but to date no licenses have been issued. There are approximately 150 print outlets that publish regularly and provide diverse views, although many are firmly aligned with either the government or the opposition. Following the November crackdown, only a limited number of newspapers, including those English-language papers that are viewed as being relatively unbiased such as the Reporter and Fortune, were allowed to remain publishing. The private press continues to criticize the government but is constrained by low circulation figures and financial struggles. The Ministry of Information requires newspapers to have a minimum bank balance in order to renew their annual publishing licenses. Printing presses are all government owned and periodically refuse to print private publications; this occurred after the November disturbances. Prominent newspaper distributor Fikre Gudu was arrested several times during the year. Access to foreign broadcasts is sometimes restricted, with VOA signals being jammed at year's end. Owing to a poor telecommunications infrastructure, internet access is limited primarily to the major urban areas (less than 0.5 percent of the population) and did not appear to be restricted by the government.