Addis Tribune -- At the Board Meeting of the International Press Institute, held in Warsaw, Poland, last Saturday the Executive Board voted unanimously to add Ethiopia to the IPI Watch List while agreeing that South Korea should be removed. Russia, Venezuela and Zimbabwe were kept on the IPI Watch List.
Commenting on the Board's decision to add Ethiopia to the list, IPI Director Johann P. Fritz said, "After a recent fact-finding mission to the country carried out by IPI, we have grave concerns about the deteriorating media freedom situation in Ethiopia."
Though the government has expressed its support for diversification of the broadcast media by opening the airwaves to private broadcasters, it has constantly delayed the implementation of this intention and, despite promises to the contrary, there are genuine fears that it will not do so before the next general election in 2005."
Regarding the draft press law, Fritz said, "The government has promised to send a copy of the most recent version of this law to IPI and we hope they do so. However, it is fair to say that the entire process has lacked transparency. Earlier drafts contained draconian measures and I am doubtful that all of these provisions will be withdrawn. This means the Ethiopian media have an uncertain future."
"I am also worried about the apparent lack of an independent judiciary and police force in Ethiopia, which have led to the arrest of journalists for outdated charges. It is damaging to the reputation of Ethiopia to have journalists languishing in jail for a failure to pay excessive bail fees. Moreover, it is extremely difficult to obtain information on arrests of journalists and this reinforces the impression that the government's vocal support for press freedom is not always matched by firm deeds."
Speaking about the IPI Watch List, Fritz added, "While I acknowledge the severe problems in the areas of poverty, education, health and food production in Ethiopia and the pressures these place on the government, the IPI Executive Board felt that the forthcoming elections could lead to greater difficulties for press freedom and access to information and, with this in mind, it was decided that IPI should pay careful attention to the Ethiopian media environment in order to support journalists." During the IPI World Congress, also held in Warsaw, Poland, last Tuesday IPI awarded its "Free Media Pioneer Award 2004" to the Baku-based Central Asian and Southern Caucasian Freedom of Expression Network (CASCFEN).