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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ethiopia: Media Jamming and the Constitution



Ethiopia: Media Jamming and the Constitution
Samuel M. Gebru
July 31, 2010

The following is from the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. The Constitution was adopted by the Transitional Government of Ethiopia in 1994 and was enacted in 1995.

DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS

Article 29 Right to Hold Opinions, Thoughts and Free Expressions

1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without any interference.

2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression without interference. This right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through other media of his choice.

3. Freedom of the press and mass media as well as freedom of artistic creation is guaranteed. Press freedom shall, in particular, include the rights enumerated hereunder: a) that censorship in any form is prohibited. b) the opportunity to have access to information of interest to the public.

4. The press shall be granted institutional independence and legal protection to enable it to accommodate different opinions and ensure the free flow of information, ideas and opinions that are necessary in a democratic society.

5. Any media financed or controlled by the government shall be organized in a manner suitable for the accommodation of differences of opinion.

6. Nothing in the foregoing shall absolve anyone of liability arising from laws enacted to protect public morals, peace, human dignity and democratic rights of citizens.

The aforementioned excerpt from the Constitution, Article 29, will be the basis for this article. To provide understanding, it is explicitly agreed upon that the Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

Internet
The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, is the ruling party that holds the majority in the lower House of People’s Representatives in Parliament. The Meles Zenawi Administration has been involved in the censorship of many websites for, at least, the past five years. These websites are generally websites that are operated by Ethiopians in the diaspora. Contrary to public opinion, not all websites are dogmatically opposed, so to speak, to the Prime Minister’s Government. For instance, my blog, www.smgebru.blogspot.com, was actually blocked for periods of times over the past five years when the entire Blogger platform was blocked. I recollect having to email the text of my articles to my readers in Ethiopia.

The blocking of the websites is in violation of the Constitution as said in Article 29 Sub-Article 3:

3. Freedom of the press and mass media as well as freedom of artistic creation is guaranteed. Press freedom shall, in particular, include the rights enumerated hereunder: a) that censorship in any form is prohibited. b) the opportunity to have access to information of interest to the public.

By blocking my blog and countless other websites of Ethiopians in the diaspora, the Government of Ethiopia was involved in the censorship of the “freedom of the press and mass media.” Furthermore, the citizens of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia were explicitly denied “the opportunity to have access to information of interest to the public.” Surely, the Constitution does not and cannot provide a definition of what “interest to the public” means because of the very reason that what is interesting to one person might not be interesting to the other—it is very subjective.

Voice of America
The Voice of America “is an international multimedia broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors…[with] an estimated worldwide audience of 125 million people.” Initially it was founded as a foreign propaganda tool of the United States and some can rightfully argue that it still is. Either way, it is suspicious as to why the citizens of the United States are “not allowed” to hear Voice of America over the radio.

Earlier this year, the Meles Zenawi Administration publicly decided to jam the Voice of America Amharic Service radio transmission to Ethiopia. When discussing with a U.S. Government official about the jamming, he bluntly said that the jamming “angered” a lot of people in Washington, D.C. That was the vibe I received from several people.

The irony of the jamming is that Meles Zenawi’s Administration receives a significant about of foreign aid, of which a significant amount comes from the United States of America. Dubbed as a “Gift of the People of the United States,” the U.S. Government provides Ethiopia with a cross-section of aid with roughly 85% of that being in the form of humanitarian (non-military) assistance. Surely it is no private assessment that it does not make sense for a country that relies heavily, and has consistently heavily relied on foreign aid, to jam the radio of the source of that aid. Had this been Zimbabwe or the Central African Republic jamming Voice of America, it would be agreeable that there are no fruitful relations to begin with that would instigate “anger” in Washington, D.C.

So what does the Supreme Law of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia have to say with regards to the interference of information? In Article 29 Sub-Article 2 we read that:

2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression without interference. This right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through other media of his choice.

The citizens of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia have seen that their right to the freedom of expression, explicitly said without interference, has been violated with particular respect to the violation of the right to “seek, receive and impart information…either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through other media of his choice.” Accordingly, “his choice” may be radio transmission of Voice of America and the citizens of Ethiopia who wish to seek and receive oral information in the form of Voice of America Amharic Service has been violated.

Ethiopian Satellite Television
Recently, the big media censorship buzz has been about the Ethiopian Satellite Television that is an entity established by Ethiopians in the diaspora with its operations serving in the diaspora with the intent of transmitting broadcasts to Ethiopia. I believe it is safe to say that there is a good pool of Ethiopians in Ethiopia that would be able to watch this prominently though Arabsat, which is how the Ethiopian Satellite Television intended to transmit its broadcast.

The Ethiopian Satellite Television’s transmissions have been interrupted three times in the past few months. It is safe to say that as the aforementioned section of Voice of America, the interference of the Ethiopian Satellite Television’s transmission to Ethiopia is also unconstitutional as pursuant to Article 29 Sub-Article 2.

In Defense of the Government
From what I have written, it can be concluded that the Government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is engaging in dangerous unconstitutional acts with respects to the “Right to Hold Opinions, Thoughts and Free Expressions.” However, Article 29 Sub-Article 6 states that:

6. Nothing in the foregoing shall absolve anyone of liability arising from laws enacted to protect public morals, peace, human dignity and democratic rights of citizens.

Ethiopians in the diaspora control the websites that were blocked, control the Voice of America Amharic Service that was blocked and control the Ethiopian Satellite Television that was blocked. One thing I will adamantly agree to is how some Ethiopians in the diaspora are simply lunatics. I loathe dogmatic people who can never compromise. While the pro and anti-government lunatics insult and threaten each other, they are forgetting that they are nothing but different sides of the same chauvinistic coin. I mentioned how ethnicity is used here, as an example: http://smgebru.blogspot.com/2010/07/community-divider.html

One can immediately notice the power and influence of Ethiopian radio stations in Washington, D.C. They indeed have put people out of business and have effectively destroyed the lives of their fellow Ethiopians. Prominently, I will use renowned Ethiopian singer Abonesh Anadew as an example and where she was and now is today. The power of those Ethiopian-run stations extends itself to Voice of America. Frankly, I think it is stupid that the executives at VOA can tell Ethiopia’s Government how good VOA is for Ethiopia when a lot of discussion on the Amharic Service could spark an African war. So we can reasonably conclude that the Ethiopian radio broadcasters—not all—are certainly out of line.

This being out of line extends itself to the Internet. Obviously there is no form of regulation, no “International Internet Law” or anything and as a result Ethiopians hiding behind pseudonyms go at each other. I call these people self-proclaimed theorists and human rights activists. They only thing they are actually advocating is hate.

As for the Ethiopian Satellite Television, some of its leaders come from the aforementioned group and the precedent they have set in other endeavors can very well call for a reasonable assumption that they would continue that precedent via television.

People love to equate every single Tigrayan as being a member of the ruling party and directly benefiting from the rule of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. I would argue that is very well not the case and a simple trip to Tigray can prove it. However, the “human dignity” of Tigrayans who are incessantly attacked in public smear campaigns through diaspora websites and transmission can very well not “absolve anyone of liability arising from laws acted to protect…human dignity…of citizens.”

The Government of Ethiopia can very well legally argue that it has the moral and legal right to block and censor anything that will hurt “public morals, peace, human dignity and democratic rights.” Surely, the burden of proof—beyond a reasonable doubt—is always on the accuser. Using Article 29 Sub-Article 6 and the Civil and Criminal Codes of Ethiopia, the Government of Ethiopia can adequately argue that certain websites, the Voice of America Amharic Service and the Ethiopian Satellite Television cannot be absolved from the laws mentioned.

What Now?
The Government of Ethiopia has a history of civil rights violations. It has a history of violating freedom of speech. It and its diehard supporters cannot handle criticism either. However, the Government of Ethiopia also has the duty to enforce the Constitution that admittedly it itself authored. Imagine George Washington or Thomas Jefferson violating the Constitution that they oversaw the production of.

Nonetheless there is also one thing known as Rights and Responsibilities. While I have the right of freedom of speech, I cannot threaten the President of the United States and get away with it. I remember a 6th grade student in Connecticut talking about killing Oprah Winfrey and President Obama, the U.S. Secret Service showed up at his home—and that is a 6th grader with less resources than an adult. Disturbing the peace while using freedom of speech is also not allowed. I cannot go into a movie theater and yell “fire” and not expect ramifications. While Ethiopians can certainly exercise their right to freedom of speech, they also have the responsibility to act within the law of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. The Constitution of Ethiopia is the Supreme Law of those who pledge allegiance to Ethiopia, meaning citizens of Ethiopia, however, as we have seen, these said citizens are also being impacted as a result of censorship.

The straightforward answer here is that both the Government and those it is censoring need to actually read and respect the Constitution of Ethiopia and other Civil and Criminal Laws. Otherwise, lets throw our hats in and become another lawless failed state. Responsibility is a two-way street.

Samuel M. Gebru
Youth Organizer and Consultant
Office: +1-202-455-0795
Email: smgebru@gmail.com
Website: www.smgebru.blogspot.com

1 comment:

Ethiopian said...

I wonder if Jamming a radio transmission is possible at all. I mean...this is the age of information and how many sources of information have to be blocked to prevent the people from getting alternate reports? i have read Ethiopian government's intention to jam VOA...was it successful?