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Sunday, May 22, 2005

Election Furore a Boom for Ethiopia's Press

The uproar over Ethiopia's hotly contested general elections last week and confusion and delays in releasing the results have sparked a massive boom for the country's nascent independent press.

With the government and opposition trading claims of victory and allegations of fraud and abuse amid relative silence from election authorities, the publishers of 40 general interest newspapers have reported a huge surge in circulation as Ethiopians clamour for information about last Sunday's polls.

Some claim phenomenal increases of up to 2 500 percent while others more modest spikes of 700 percent and although such figures are not audit certified, there are noticeably more newspapers on the streets of Addis Ababa than before.

Meanwhile, the circulations of the country's two state-run newspapers, Addis Zemen and the Ethiopian Herald, have remained steady at 5 000 to 7 000, observers said.

And, as state-run television and radio have stopped providing equal time to the opposition as they did during the campaign, it is clear that the government's political foes have turned to new news outlets.

"The growth of newspaper circulation is not only because of their accuracy and consistency, but because of the public's curiosity to know the results of their vote in the election," said Tamrat Giorgis, publisher of the independent business weekly Fortune.

"There a critical bottom line the public is looking for which neither the parties, the national election board nor the state media is able to provide," he said.

Tamrat said the circulation of his English-language publication had soared from 3 000 to 5 000 before the election to 40 000, a 700-percent increase.

But that is nothing compared to the boost claimed by Ethiopi, a weekly newspaper in Amharic, the country's national language, which says it printed 2 500 percent more copies of its last edition than its usual 5 000.

"We are leading the print media in circulation," Tesfu Tegegn, Ethiopi's managing editor told reporters.

"We printed 130 000 copies in one go and in the evening there was still demand for copies."

"The reason is the public thinks that information about the opposition can be found in private papers as the private papers were the ones that covered the opposition even before the voting," he said.

"The public knows who he has cast his vote for and he wants to know if it goes by the book and he believes the private media is the right place as the state media is not providing information of the opposition," Tesfu said.

IOL

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