Thursday, September 13

Addis Foreign Press Corps: My Observations

(Naturally, under this government, the good ones are expelled, leaving us with those who wouldn’t dare risk their lifestyle for something as petty as the truth. Still, I can’t help but expect something more…)


Strangely, we continue to witness the deterioration of the free press at the hands of the few correspondents in this country who remain truly free.

The official restrictions on national press have been well-documented by human rights watchdog organizations, but little has been written on the shameful contributions made by Ethiopia's foreign correspondents. I am continually amazed by what I have observed here among this small circle of journalists—at the perpetual politicization of the news, and appalling distortions of the truth so easily excused by self-interested editors and comfortable journalists.

To shed some light on the workings of the Addis foreign press corps:

To secure accreditation, certain leading wire correspondents are encouraged by their editors to assure the appropriate Ministers of their intentions to write exclusively “happy” stories, which portray the country in a “favourable light”. Despite the blatantly inappropriate nature of such negotiations, these correspondents have, nevertheless, proven willing to go to great lengths to uphold this ludicrous promise to the Ethiopian government (the current social and political climate notwithstanding)—scrambling to uncover the happy stories in a place where, for so many, true happiness is found only in precious fleeting moments, development in a land where economic growth is virtually stagnant, and isolated incidents of political leniency in one of the world’s most repressive regimes.

Consequently, in Ethiopia, stories are routinely ignored or intentionally killed by the international wire services, whose journalists are even, on occasion, encouraged by bureau chiefs to re-interpret, or “contextualize” the more inflammatory responses of government spokesman (with a suggestive, “surely that is not what he actually meant!”)!

Even more worrying, is that Ambassadors and State Department officials also influence which events ultimately make it to print, ordering correspondents into silence or spinning stories for diplomatic advantage (recent examples being the arrest of NY Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman in the Ogeden region, which was deliberately suppressed by Ambassador Yamamoto for nearly a week, before finally being reported by blogger Ethio-Zagol, and the premature leaking of the ongoing political negotiations between the government and political prisoners).

Perhaps I am merely naïve, but something seems intrinsically wrong when major news outlets are encouraging their journalists to perpetually wine and dine government officials on the company expense account, while strictly advising them to avoid socializing with known opposition members and supporters, whose activities are to be regarded as automatically subversive.

It is simply unfathomable to me that the few foreign correspondents granted permission to work at length within the country (all citizens of free and democratic societies, lest they forget) could somehow begin with a "necessary, temporary effort to placate a hostile government", and in only a few months time end up functioning as government stooges—consciously neglecting subjects certain to upset the ruling party, and reluctantly investigating instances of widespread government brutality only upon official approval, with state-sponsored escorts.

The most popular justification amongst African press circles is clearly the claim that their organization would otherwise be expelled from the country. But, it seems to me, that if their primary agenda is actually to deliver unbiased regional news to their readers, the expulsion of their organization for merely documenting events as they unfold, is also, in itself, a strikingly accurate indication of national conditions. Regardless--since when did tailoring the news to suit the temperament of a brutal dictator become an acceptable compromise?

Yet, this has become more than acceptable practice here in Addis; in fact, it has become routine. And, naturally, when other publications (such as the Economist, New York Times or the Washington Post) break a controversial story first, the local correspondents can usually be found grumbling over drinks at the Sheraton Office Bar, berating said papers’ “unethical” means of gathering information and the “dangerous” community of in-country fixers, stringers, freelancers and bloggers on which they rely.

18 comments:

ethioinfo said...

Thank you for saying the obvious. Especially coming from a non ethiopian, it is very good to hear. With that in mind, would you know of anyone who could send the picture of Les Neuhaus.
www.flickr.com/photos/ethioinfo

Anonymous said...

Many thanks. This is wonderful, wonderful. Thanks for your unwavering stand. You are our true friend, people's friend.

God bless you.
Be safe, our prayers for you, too.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Lewit! Well said.

z tawek said...

My sources tell me it won't be too long before you join Mr. Connors. I hope that wouldn't be the case; but I am afraid a lot of the things he had told me in the past came to fruition.

Anonymous said...

You will soon follow the other misinformed ferenjis if you don't stop spreading these lies.

Anonymous said...

This is nothing new, mengedegna, but how the world works.
Good luck to you.

Sisai said...

How come most of your comments are coming from people who can do hurt you, like expel you from the country, threaten you with some harm etc?Your readers seem to be fairly representative of both sides.
Just wondering

Anonymous said...

Dear Mengedegna,

Thank you very much. The TPLF's are good for nothing. They don't know how to be civil. Let alone talking behind this screen. They are an embarassament for Ethiopia and for the whole human being.

Good job, keep informing us the truth. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Go to hell spy !

Anonymous said...

washington Post, the new york times etc have become nothing but a tabloid these days. They all are doing propoganda for the benifit of the West. Afterall they don't want China to do business with anyone, the West wants to be the sole dominator of the world. ohhhh those days are gone. You and your New York times dan spread your lies. But we will take it with 'grain of salt', Gabbish?

Anonymous said...

After reading the comments above me, it is easy to find out who stands for democracy or a dictatorial form of government. Lewit, don't let the no sayers discourage you. We Ethiopians like you know what they are up to. Since the truth is a bad news for Meles and his boys never accept the truth so as their blind followers. The only choice that the government chose to use is to pressure news papers and foreign journalist to spin the news. Thanks for expressing your concerns. What do you expect from these thugs in power?

God Help us from these EPRDF evils.

Anonymous said...

The previous comment is from shabia supporter. Eritrea has the worst record on Freedom of the press. There isn't a single private newspaper in the country. Even government journalists are harassed/jailed or killed. Just recently, one government journalist was shot dead by Eritrean security forces when he tried to flee to Ethiopia.

Lewit,

Your blog is one sided. There fore you have zero credibility.

Anonymous said...

Your blog is not one sided but fair which is based on the fact and observation on the ground. I know the truth hurts sometimes and Meles and his gang don't like it a bit.

The truth will set you free.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mengedegna,

This is just to wish well and good Your silence may mean no news. But to know you are doing fine. Don't trust those devils/satans.

Best wishes

Anonymous said...

Dear Megedegna,

Our dear friend Mengedegna is missed a lot. Stay safe. Our prayers.

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