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Deutsche Welle (Ethiopia): A Disgrace to Press Freedom?

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02/20/12

  11:14:30 am, by admin, 2259 words  
Categories: Ethiopia, Alemayehu G. Mariam

Deutsche Welle (Ethiopia): A Disgrace to Press Freedom?

Deutsche Welle (Ethiopia): A Disgrace to Press Freedom?

By Alemayehu G. Mariam

In a memorandum sent to Deutsche Welle’s (DW) [Germany's international broadcaster] “correspondents outside Ethiopia” in late 2010,  Ludger Schadomsky, editor-in-chief of DW’s Amharic program, blasted “ethiomedia and similar sites by extension” as a “disgrace” to press freedom.  “The amount of hatred splashed across [ethiomedia] is a disgrace to any politically sober mind,” declared Shadomsky self-righteously.  To shelter his staff from the crazed haters (not of sober mind), Schadomsky issued a strict gag order: “Let me make it very plain that I will not have DW correspondents contribute ‘Letters-to-the editor’ or articles to ethiomedia and similar sites.” 

Why is Schadomsky bent out of shape over “ethiomedia and similar sites by extension”? Apparently, he had been chewed out, tongue-lashed, dressed down, squeezed, badgered, blackmailed and "monitored" by none other than dictator Meles Zenawi’s doppelganger in charge of information. Schadomsky explained to his staff: 

You will be aware of the close monitoring of the Ethiopian government of any activities by our staff members perceived to be ‘opposition activities’. I have a number of names thrown at me by Bereket Simon every time I am in Addis… We will be embarking on another attempt to secure additional licenses in Ethiopia. You will appreciate that any activity outside the realm of objective news reporting will harm those efforts, and is generally not in line with our editorial policy.” 

In an “Open letter to ethiomedia.com” in January 2012, intended to refute “a number of articles on Ethiomedia alleging self-censorship at DW Amharic,” Schadomsky triumphantly depicted himself as a fearless defender of press freedom and a paragon of journalistic integrity. He declared unabashedly: 

I would like to go on record as saying that we at DW Amharic neither bow to pressure from the government of Ethiopia, nor give in to the increasingly outrageous demands made by radicalized opposition figures and organizations. Our editorial policy is guided by one principle only, namely: to provide millions of Ethiopians with access to free and fair information in a country where media freedom is heavily curtailed. 

Schadomsky claimed to be “flabbergasted” by allegations made in an “open letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel that DW Amharic deliberately shuns voices critical of the [Ethiopian] government in its programmes.” He carped, “One expects a certain degree of harassment from an authoritarian government… (but) I did not expect the same, and worse, harassment from people who claim to champion democracy and freedom of speech.” He pontificated: “You don’t have to be a citizen of a country still struggling with its Nazi past to find the phrase ‘the fascist Woyane regime in Addis Ababa’ horribly inappropriate, no matter how much one may disagree with the present government.” 

Who is a Disgrace to Press Freedom?  

As Schadomsky furiously wags an accusatory finger at “ethiomedia and similar sites by extension” and vilifies them as a “disgrace”, he fails to notice that three fingers are silently and squarely pointing at him. But closer scrutiny of Shadomsky’s claims reveal some unsettling facts: 

Editorial Policy: Shadomsky vaguely alludes to DW’s “editorial policy”, which he claims is “guided by one principle only, namely: to provide millions of Ethiopians with access to free and fair information in a country where media freedom is heavily curtailed.” How does he reasonably expect to provide “free and fair information” to the Ethiopian people when is on his hands and knees groveling for  “additional broadcasting licenses”? When did freedom (in any from including expression and the press) become a licensable activity or commodity in Germany? 

Editorial policy uninformed by ethical and professional standards and principles of press freedom is pointless and delusional.  The Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists (which has been in operation since 1909 and universally adopted by professional journalists) urges journalists  to “give voice to the voiceless” and to “tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so”. It instructs professional journalists to “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived” and to “remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.” Schadomsky does not seem to be aware of these obligations. 

Curiously, Schadomsky seems to have a very narrow understanding of journalism as he commands his staff to stay away from “any activity outside the realm of objective news reporting”. In pursuit of political correctness and "additional broadcasting licenses", he has resolved to sacrifice news analysis, editorials and presentation of divergent viewpoints to his audience. Following Schadomsky’s “objective news theory”, DV Amharic could report that a major Ethiopian opposition political figure has been jailed, but related news or discussions of the legality of the imprisonment and the pattern and practice of official political persecution and human rights violations which nurture such arbitrary arrests and detentions in the country would be off limits.  “Objective news” is meaningless without context, frame of reference. If “objective news” reporting is about fairness, accuracy and minimization of bias, the best way to achieve that is to allow expression of divergent views and opinions, and not underestimate the intelligence of Ethiopian listeners to separate fact from opinion. 

The claim of pursuit of “objective news” is contradicted by other facts. For instance, coverage of certain opposition figures including Birtukan Midekssa while she was in prison was off limits. There is evidence showing that members of Zenawi’s embassy in Germany have met with DW’s Amharic staff at least twice and dictated terms and conditions to Schadomsky for their cooperation and granting of additional licenses. Among these conditions include DV’s avoidance of human rights related issues, banning of certain individuals from DV microphones (a fact Shadomsky admits when he stated in his memo, “I have a number of names thrown at me by Bereket Simon every time I am in Addis…”) and glorification of the economic and political progress made under Zenawi’s leadership. 

Schadomsky also appears to believe that his editorial policy of tokenism by inviting a handful of Ethiopian opposition representatives from time to time proves journalistic neutrality and inclusiveness. He seems to believe that an occasional interview with Thilo Hoppe, German lawmaker and critic of Zenawi’s regime, opposition leader Berhanu Nega and “sole opposition MP, Ato Girma Seifu” in Ethiopia adequately represents the diversity of  Ethiopian opposition views, or affords opponents of Zenawi’s  regime a fair opportunity to be heard. But this policy of tokenism belies Schadomsky’s systematic and relentless browbeaitng and badgering of the Amharic staff to avoid certain subjects and ban certain critics of Zenawi’s regime from DW’s microphones, including Eskinder Nega, the present author and others. 

But Schadomsky’s issues appear to go beyond lack of basic familiarity with professional journalistic ethics, conflict of interest principles, difficulties with truth-telling and imperious and cavalier treatment of his staff. Schadomsky can be challenged in three specific areas: 1) He simply cannot back up his accusatory claims which buttress his conclusion that “ethiomedia and similar sites by extension” are a disgrace to press freedom and the politically sober mind. 2) He manifests extreme sensitivity to criticism of his editorial policy or allegations of “self-censorship” and being a regime "mouthpice".  3) There are significant questions which raise doubt about his professional competence to discharge his duties as editor-in chief of the Amharic program. 

Hate Speech: In his January 2012 “Open Letter” Schadomisky alleges: “It is our view that some of the content splashed across certain news sites constitutes hate speech, and DW will not allow opinion pieces by its journalists to be posted alongside hate speech.” This conclusion is unsupported in Art. 5 (1) or other provisions of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (BL). Under the BL, there is a world of difference between offering an opinion and engaging in hate speech. Art. 5(1) guarantees that “Every person shall have the right freely to express and disseminate his opinions in speech, writing…”

On the other hand, hate speech refers to “utterances which tend to insult, intimidate or harass a person or groups or utterances capable of instigating violence, hatred or discrimination.” The German Federal Constitutional Court has held that “opinions are characterized by an element of taking a position and of appraising” and “demonstration of their truth or untruth is impossible.” Consequently, opinions “enjoy the basic right's (BL) protection regardless of whether their expression is judged to be well-founded or unfounded, emotional or rational, valuable or worthless, dangerous or harmless… and do not lose this protection by being sharply or hurtfully worded.” 

Schadomsky’s offers only one concrete example of alleged hate speech by “ethiomedia and similar sites by extension” in his hyperbolic allegations of “splashed hate”. He claims: “You don’t have to be a citizen of a country still struggling with its Nazi past to find the phrase the ‘fascist Woyane regime in Addis Ababa’ horribly inappropriate, no matter how much one may disagree with the present government.”

This alleged example of  “hate speech” is nothing more than an opinion -- a value judgment, a statement of belief or impression --  and is fully protected by Art. 5(1) of BL.  Fascism is a discredited, though historically a dominant, political ideology. It extolls a party and state led by one supreme leader who exercises dictatorial powers over the party, the government and other state institutions. Fascist regimes reject liberal (“neoliberal”) forms of democracy based on majority rule and egalitarianism in favor of centralized power in the hands of a few.

It is not “hate speech” for one to call a regime a “fascist Woyane regime” (“Woyane” referring to a rebellion in Northern Ethiopia in 1943)  if one holds such an opinion. Neither is it hate speech to lambaste Diaspora  Ethiopian critics as “fundamentalist neo-liberals”, “extremist hardliners” or to bandy other silly but colorful descriptions. 

Extreme Sensitivity to Criticism. For reasons that are not apparent, Schadomsky goes ballistic when faced with criticism. He seems to be particularly stung by criticism that his program practices “self-censorship” and has become a “mouthpiece” of Zenawi’s regime, something he claims has “dumfounded him” in light of the fact that the “Government of Ethiopia routinely jams our broadcasts for months at a time… and [has] refused us additional reporter licenses”. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “Schadomsky doth protest too much, methinks.” By overreacting to such criticism, caustic and scathing as they may sound, Schadomsky risks validating them. The fact of the matter is that those in the media must tolerate criticism of their work and role because it comes with the territory. They just have to deal with it, not mope around moaning and groaning about it! 

Competence to Serve as Editor-in-Chief: There is evidence to suggest that DW has a basic policy of appointing editors-in-chief in its radio programs who have facility in the particular programming language. For instance, the editors of the Africa programs -- Hausa, Kiswahili, Portuguese -- are said to be fluent in their respective languages. Schadomsky is said to have no fluency whatsoever in Amharic and largely depends on a single subordinate for advice and counsel in making editorial decisions. While this is an administrative matter, it does detract significantly from Schadomsky’s claim “to provide millions of Ethiopians with access to free and fair information in a country where media freedom is heavily curtailed.” His handicap in the Amharic language and reliance on the “heavily curtailed” information he receives from a single subordinate makes his claim of serving millions of Ethiopians rather hollow, if not laughable. 

Schadomsky’s memo demonstrates that he is obsessed with political correctness, and fearful of unleashing the wrath of the powers that be in Ethiopia. This untenable situation has created a credibility gap for DV and a gullibility gap for Schadomsky. He can claim that there is no “self-censorship” at DV Amharic; but his memorandum is proof positive that there is not only self-censorship but also fear and loathing among his staff who wince at the very thought of expressing their views under his gag order. He can mount a campaign of fear and smear against “ethiomedia and similar websites by extension” and bombard them with verbal pyrotechnics in an attempt to deflect attention from his professional deficits and anemic ethical standards.

The fact of the matter is that the credibility of DV Amharic has been damaged beyond repair after the  revelation of Schadomsky’s sanctimonious memorandum. As long as he remains at the helm, DV Amharic will be regarded by millions of Ethiopians as self-censoring, cowardly and trifling. Those who may listen to DV Amharic may do so not out of thirst for useful information but sheer habit. For most, DV Amharic will remain background static noise over the airwaves. 

Apology is Due to Ethiomedia and Other Pro-Democracy Ethiopian Websites  

Schadomsky owes “ethiomedia and similar sites by extension” an apology. He has unfairly characterized them as hateful and not having a “politically sober mind”. In other words, he has called them crazy hatemongers. They have their own viewpoints and perspectives as they are entitled to have; and they are passionate about their beliefs. Whatever faults they may have, one of them is not putting on a charade of being an independent news agency.  I am confident that Ethiomedia and the other Ethiopian pro-democracy websites fully subscribe to the proposition that “A cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press, must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the right of the people to know.”

There is no disgrace in standing up for one's beliefs; but it is a disgrace to speak with forked tongue. My deepest gratitude and appreciation goes to all of the pro-democracy Ethiopian websites worldwide.   

Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/ 
 

21 comments

Comment from: gashe_mamo [Member]  
gashe_mamo

This so called shadowmiskin character did he get a promise only extra lisence from Berket, or did he make him taste some booty from the loot, or else while in Addis Berket must have exhailed on him, and got the communicable disease of dictatorial and totalitarian rule; he is really acting weird!!!

We do not need Ethio media to be Walta II or Aiga II & We need DV to continue like the good old days, to be the voice of the voiceless…..

.

02/20/12 @ 22:57
Comment from: eselem [Visitor]
eselem

This individual,the Amharic program director of Deutsche welle is incompetent and he is not objective like a journalist. If he wants to work or support this mercenary’s regime, he needs to go to Ethiopia and be one his dogs.

02/20/12 @ 23:00
Comment from: Truth [Visitor]
Truth

Beautifully written as usual. True, its painful to swallow to DW editor, but the article painted a true picture of the state of affairs at DW.

02/20/12 @ 23:09
Comment from: Mo Ethio [Visitor]
Mo Ethio

What a shame..for shameless Alemayehu G. Mariam. as much as you ashamed of your country, We all ashamed of you. We only can wonder what your connection with this web site? it seems the web site allowed to write your ill propaganda. who on the right mind criticize his own people and his own country with this much negative articles? if you think who you claim to be professor, you are not using your education to benefit your country and your country man. you are such a self centered and KEHADI!!! why don’t you take this garbage attitude some where else?

02/21/12 @ 00:39
Comment from: Extraterrestrial [Member]  

He is unconsciously writing about himself: a disgrace.

02/21/12 @ 00:54
Comment from: Sober [Visitor]
Sober

I totally agree with Schadomsky. Many of the opposition Medias, including Ethiomedi,a, lack fairness and balance, and reflect unreasonable one-sidedness and narrowness in views, opinions and interpretation. The all have one thing in common: the usual extremely biased accusation of the current Government of Ethiopia and fomenting hate politics day and night. They have no interest in matters that would have significant impact on the welfare millions of Ethiopians and welfare of our country, such as: food security, fighting poverty, health coverage, education, environment, economy, social life and culture, fighting violence on women, fighting abuses on minors, the spread of science and technology, local and regional security, and many other issues affecting millions other than politics.

02/21/12 @ 02:28
Comment from: John John [Visitor]
John John

mo ethiopia

As usual they are all over him.The cadres who live for left over are out in full force.I am refering to mo ethio and the likes who think nothing wrong is happening in Ethiopia and that anything Meles does is angel like.The time has come to raise up.

02/21/12 @ 04:56
Comment from: sf [Visitor]
sf

@Mo Ethio [Visitor]
You siad,"we all ashamed of you.” Why are you ashemed of him?
Are you ashamed of him, because he writes what he think right or because he didn’t write in support of Woyanne TPLF gangsters.
To me, what he writes is only the truth with out any hidden agenda like TPLF Cadres.
You may not like his ideas and his writing, but you shouldn’t be ashamed of him.
If you are ashamed of him, you are against the TRUTH. Beside the point, don’t forget that he isn’t an ambassador for the Ethiopian government and for you. Yes, he is an amsassador for himself and the likes.
Well done Prof. Alemayehu. I am proud of you.

02/21/12 @ 05:48
Comment from: BelayZeleke [Visitor]
BelayZeleke

What a blow, just numbered your dates, the truth and the majority interest is always the winer! You wight fool once but not sustainable. We better form strong bond among each other and work together for a better future! The more we unite, focused, understand each other, the more our future success will speed up! One love.

02/21/12 @ 08:29
Comment from: addiszemen [Member]  

Ye ayit misikir dimbit, ….

Almaria himself is one of the disgraceful diaspora Ethio news websites member, as an editor in chief of Ethiopian review, also known as, eritrean review.
Why is he acting as a neutral third person trying to divert attention off of himself?
He wrote, “….and (do) not under estimate the inteligence of Ethiopian listners to separate fact from opinion,…”
Look what a habitual liar and hypocrite almaria is! He is the one, who night and day stomping on the conscious of his readers and insulting everyone’s inteligence, and now he trys to make an accusation on someone who uncoverd his true identity of devilish nature of hate mongering, gave him a real name diservedly DISGRACFUL to media. (Gut gemacht, Herr Schadomsky! Vielen danke!)
Well, you’ve no way out of that natural decietfulness, you’ll keep to lie through your teeth as long as you live. Because that is what you’re good for!!

02/21/12 @ 09:45
Comment from: Tefera [Visitor]
Tefera

“On the other hand, hate speech refers to “utterances which tend to insult, intimidate or harass a person or groups or utterances capable of instigating violence, hatred or discrimination.” “
…….
it appears the professor is playing innocent until proven guilty, because i see the above being practiced by him and his friends every day….what about calling africa “a continent of beggars"..i guess that is opinion too..

02/21/12 @ 10:09
Comment from: heny [Visitor]
heny

Alemayah,
demo keneafrow metah zare!? Are you serious Ethiomedia is worthy getting an apology?? haha tigermaleh if you mean it. That means you are not a serious man. All you are doing is joking.

02/21/12 @ 11:23
Comment from: mesfin_b [Member]  
mesfin_b

In the world of Tyrant Meles, the free press, free media are non-existent.
His only way is shutup or else.

Death to Weyane shiftas.

02/21/12 @ 11:24
Comment from: TEDDY [Visitor]
TEDDY

The problem of this guy is only ,ignoring the facts of Ethiopian
Politics and local realities behave as a simple clerk waiting the Directives from Deuthch Authorities .Whom in the name of geostrategies and business prefer not
to be in crisis with the crime minister and his puppets .The problem
for them is that most professional Ethiopian journalists who can make the job are from the Free press groups .Actually shut down by the crime minister and his agazis .They can not also recruit TPLF paid cadres of ETV ,Walta or any TPLF medias of propagandas who do not have the least deontology of the free
press than vomiting lies and stupid propagandas .Deuthch Authorities do
not want too their National Media becoming the twin bros of ETV or Walta .As said our dear elders “Kebero be sew edje yamir ,seyizut yadenager ” .

02/21/12 @ 16:08
Comment from: Afarman [Visitor]
Afarman

kkk This old Ayatollah has come up with his usuall rhetoric, what a retarded professor he is…This idiot make me lough all the time. Pro Lemayehu Gebremariam the prophet of doom and gloom, the prophet of rage will keep on crying till he drops dead.

Ethiopia is in safe hands…our future with the EPRDF is bright, I don want to see prophets of darkness releasing their messages of hate and prejudice in the cyber world..those idiots should be told off.

02/21/12 @ 16:13
Comment from: gashe_mamo [Member]  
gashe_mamo

@Afarman [Visitor] __Maferia , budgerigar

To put an end to the reign of brutality and terror information is vital. The prof. Is doing his part in the most efficient way possible.
Ethiopia is being ruled by Moloch, first born of Satan, a tool of Beelzebub . Poor Afarman who is a disciple is following them singing & laughing with his rotten teeth, when they drag him to the cliff to throw him to the abyss…..Friend it is time for you to clean up, stand up, wake up and say No! No to Brutality, No to terror, No to ethnic rascim, before you loose your wicked soul …
And one last thing brush your teeth before you laugh !!…..

.

02/22/12 @ 10:05
Comment from: Sobeya [Visitor]
Sobeya

Ant mozaza sekaram,You are soo boring,out of touch living in his own 1972 neftegna era..You need to get some punani.

02/22/12 @ 13:18
Comment from: Yuya Joe College [Visitor]
Yuya Joe College

Very well written and poignant, however you haven’t really addressed the point about hate speech. I find terribly racist statements on these websites all the time, particularly in the comments. To win over places like Canada and the AU, arguments must be formed against policy and practice but never against ethnicity.

In addition, all the mistakes of the Opposition during the 2005 election and subsequent months are rarely analyzed and discussed, setting up a situation where disunity persists and mistakes have been and are being repeated.

02/22/12 @ 19:17
Comment from: Tulu Proud ET [Visitor]
Tulu Proud ET

Well don ethiomedia and the great Professor.

I was not so much for Ethiomedia but now I am going to be hooked on it.

Meles must be worried by the flow of his misruling and corruptions exposed on ethiomedia.

It is a laughing matter when a Disgraced and mouth piece of dictator Meles accusing a free and fair information website over freedom of information.

Shadomsky with his useless and incompetent journalism knowledge provides nothing but pure Woyane propaganda.

It is absurd to say that there is freedom of information in Ethiopia when we witness day in and day out journalists, opposition figures and supporters being imprisoned on a trumped up charges with out any do process and justice.

02/22/12 @ 19:22
Comment from: mesfin_b [Member]  
mesfin_b

Here is the list of Thugs for the “Land pirate” Meles the Shifta.
Addis zemen = Aids Zemen
heny = the hen-chicken
John,John = jinjinu
Afarman = afer man
Agazi woman = agases whore
These are a few of the cyber flies
who are trying to trash out the good blogsite - Nazret.com
The good professor is a godsend for the diaspora to be enlightened with current Ethiopian socio-political issue.
Thank you professor Alemayehu

02/23/12 @ 13:31
Comment from: Harakale Gaaz [Visitor]
Harakale Gaaz

Ato Arrr Maria,

When is your pen drying out of ink? When do you stop your endless fumble and stumble? You are all over. Your diatribe knows no boundry. As a paid fabrication writer of Afeworki and Co. it has been years since you joined the bandwagen of Elias Kifle of Eritrean Review. Who cares for the Washington cooked fabrication and endless bar talks for which you are the expert. Go tell your Mamma.

02/24/12 @ 11:01

rebtel

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